Contract Talks Set to Resume Between Grocery Companies, Workers

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Contract talks are scheduled to resume today between Southern California grocery companies and the union representing thousands of workers, who have already authorized a strike if negotiations break down.

Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers union announced June 26 that its membership had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if union leaders opt to call one. The vote immediately raised fears of a repeat of the 2003-04 Southland grocery strike, which dragged on for 141 days.

Despite the vote, no work stoppage has yet been ordered, and union officials noted at the time that more talks were already scheduled with representatives of Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions.

``As we have said all along, we are committed to continuing to invest in our associates -- providing secure, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits,'' Ralphs President Mike Murphy said in a statement released Tuesday. ``We know our associates are the heart of our company. With a balanced approach this agreement can be a win for everyone - our associates, our communities and our company.''

The bargaining session is scheduled to continue through Friday. According to Ralphs, additional talks have already been set for the end of July and early August.

The contract between UFCW and the grocery companies expired in March. That pact was approved by workers in 2016 and included annual raises for most workers, along with increased pay for entry-level cashiers and concessions on holiday pay and retirement age, union officials said at the time.

John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles, said last month the strike-authorization vote will be a powerful tool to wield when negotiations resume.

``We win by showing the grocery executives that we won't settle for their insulting offers, and we won't back down in the face of corporate greed,'' he said.

Union officials said last month the most recent contract offer made by the grocery companies included wage increases of less than 1 percent and nearly 25 percent cuts in cashier wages.

In its Tuesday statement, Ralphs executives said the company offers its workers competitive wages, healthcare benefits that cost employees an average of $62 per month for their entire family's medical coverage, along with pension benefits ``in a time when 93% of American companies do not offer a pension option.''

UFCW represents an estimated 60,000 grocery workers in counties stretching from the Central Coast to the Mexican border.

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