Vons crew on brink
By Jesse Phelps
Workers at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons
supermarkets throughout Southern California are preparing to
strike, according to union representatives.
If the union is unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement
with the chains in a last round of negotiations slated for Friday
afternoon, picket lines will form in front of Ojai's Vons location
by Saturday morning.
After meeting with representatives of Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons
for two months, unions representing 70,000 grocery workers in
Southern California received the employers' final proposal shortly
before midnight on Oct. 5, according to a press release from
the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
But the union was unhappy with a proposed two-tier employment
system that would promote the hiring of new employees at lower
wages and with even less of a benefits package than the proposed
"drastic reductions" for current employees.
Vons officials said the new agreement is critical for them to
remain competitive in a marketplace crowded with discount retailers
moving into the grocery business.
Under the proposed collective bargaining agreement, current employees
would be "grandfathered under existing wage scales and reduced
benefits, but new employees would be hired at vastly diminished
wages, benefits, and working conditions," according to a
newsletter published by UFCW Local 1036.
Martel Fraser, secretary treasurer of UFCW Local 236, said that
the range of services to be cut is extensive.
"The employer is proposing twotier wage rates for new
employees and a reduction of about 40 percent in wages for new
employees," she said. "For return employees, they want
to freeze the Sunday premium and reduce and take away nighttime
premiums. They literally gutted the contract across the board,
gutted by 40 percent sick pay, vacation pay and holiday pay."
Fraser told the Ojai Valley News that the result of the new agreement
being accepted would inevitably be that the new, lower-rate employees
would get the best shifts with the highest pay. "On Sunday,
it's not going to be that cashier who's worked there for 20 years,
it'll be a new cashier that's been there for two months,"
In addition, according to Fraser, medical benefits will be severely
reduced, potentially forcing the employees to select from fewer
providers, handle larger co-pays and come up with thousands of
dollars for medical bills should they become very sick.
Fraser said that her union has the backing of virtually every
other major union, including the American Federation of Teachers,
Teamsters, Plumbers and Pipe-Fitters, laborers, machinists, and
trash, which could cause the stores additional difficulties.
"They're not going to cross the picket lines, load the trucks
at the warehouse or unload the trucks at the stores," she
said. "They're going to park the trucks in the street and
the managers will have to drive it into the loading dock."
Union members voted on the supermarket giants' final proposal
on Wednesday and Thursday at membership meetings as far north
as San Luis Obispo and Mammoth Lakes, across to the Arizona and
Nevada borders, and south to the border of Mexico.
A strike would affect not only the Ojai Vons location, but 859
supermarkets total, and impact 70,000 grocery workers in Southern
California, according to the union.
Last minute negotiations will be held on Friday but should it
come to a strike, Fraser said she expects full participation
from the employees of the Ojai Vons.
Kathy Lisle, store manager at the Ojai location, declined to
speak with the Ojai Valley news. But a sign already hangs in
the front window, offering jobs. Fraser said that the management
of the Ojai store had been cooperative in letting its employees
speak with their union representatives.
Still, one Vons employee said that some of her fellow workers
are scared. Citing a fear of being fired, she wouldn't go on
record with her name but said she expects that most all of her
fellow employees will participate in the strike.
"We don't want this to happen but we are sticking together
and we're standing strong on it," she said.
Another employee, Rick McCoy, who sometimes works in the meat
department in Ojai, said he's been with the union for 25 years.
He's not looking forward to a strike but stands behind the union
without reservation. "We're the last bastion of the middle
class," he said.
Meanwhile, a representative for the market sees the new agreement
as a chance to "level the playing field" in an ever
more competitive market and insists that the new terms are perfectly
"They're not significant reductions," said Sandra Calderon,
a public relations official for Vons corporate office in Arcadia.
"We're actually offering a contract that's very fair in
a competitive environment."
Calderon said that the new terms can be directly linked to the
proliferation of large-scale discount department stores, which
offer grocery products without having to worry about the headaches
that come with union employees.
"There's been a lot of change in the retail landscape in
the last four years," she said. "Today's contract has
to reflect those changes. We have strong competition with all
the new, non-union grocers. Where before it used to be traditional
grocery stores, you've got Targets and Wal-Marts and all these
non-union stores coming into the grocery realm. It's difficult
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
VONS WORKER makes their sentiments known.