California Grocery Workers Score Double-Digit Raises After ‘Unified And Militant’ Threat To Strike
Some 47,000 Southern California grocery workers will receive their largest pay increase in decades, after they ratified a new union contract with the region’s largest food chains on Thursday, according to the LA Times.
Passing with an 87% approval, employees at 540 Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavillions stores from San Luis Obispo to San Diego will receive raises of 19% to 31% over current levels, while part-time employees – around 70% of the workforce – were guaranteed 28 weekly hours, up from 24.
The agreement came after four months of bargaining came down to a union-authorized strike – which would have compounded issues caused by inflation and supply chain woes.
Across California and the nation, a pandemic-driven labor shortage has made it harder to retain and hire staff. Workers are quitting for higher-paying jobs and older employees, fearing infection, are retiring in droves. -LA Times
“The companies were afraid of a strike,” said Kathy Finn, secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles. “Our members were more unified and militant than they’ve been in a long time.”
Ralphs, owned by parent company Kroger, said in a statement that it was “pleased” with the agreement, while Albertsons described the pay raises – which are more than 2.5x what the chains originally proposed – as “fair and equitable.”
The grocers had originally proposed a raise of just $1.80 per hour over three years for the highest-paid long-term employees, including cashiers. They ended up agreeing to $4.25, raising wages for those employees to $26.75. Those at the bottom-third of the workforce – baggers and clerk’s helpers – will receive a 95-cent raise to $16.34 per hour.
“This is the best contract for the employees in 20 years, but also for the companies,” said retail consultant Burt Flickinger. “We have the most acute worker shortage since World War II. Higher wages and benefits are an investment in worker loyalty and productivity.”
According to Flickinger, the new UFCW contract will help counter nonunion competition, as union membership in the Southern California grocery industry has dropped from 90% to around 35% over the last 25 years due to the growth of big-box stores.
“Walmart and Target are running out of stocks in key categories because they don’t have enough workers at stores or warehouses. With the high cost of living in Southern California, this contract could bring back experienced workers to union stores — people who retired early because of COVID and now can’t pay their bills,” he said.
Earlier this month, UFCW workers at Stater Bros., a chain with 15,000 Southern California employees, also gained hefty increases of $4.50 over three years for top-line cashiers, clerks and meat cutters, along with a 28-hour minimum guarantee for most part-timers.
“Grocery workers and their union scored a big win,” said Occidental College politics professor Peter Dreier, co-author of a recent report by the nonprofit Economic Roundtable on Kroger. Polls showed the public was sympathetic to essential workers who suffered hardships during the pandemic, and the companies would have lost a lot of business in the event of a strike, he said. -LA Times
In 1990, real wages for Southern California Kroger workers made them the highest-paid clerks at the time, earning $13.65 per hour – which would translate to $28.32 today.
Tue, 04/19/2022 – 21:05