Thousands of southern California grocery store workers will cast ballots Monday and Tuesday that could pave the way for a strike this summer.
Nearly 7,000 Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs workers in San Diego County have already made their voices heard. Though the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and supermarket giant Albertsons, which owns Vons (Ralph’s is owned by Ohio-based Kroger), have both said they’d like to reach an agreement at the negotiating table, the UFCW has promised that the threat of a strike is real.
If this vote passes, it doesn't mean grocery store workers are necessarily hitting the picket lines this week. But the vote could give tens of thousands of workers from Bakersfield to San Diego the green light to strike if negotiations fall through.
Esther Lopez remembers her first days working in Ralphs about 30 years ago. She said it was a good job, with good benefits that helped her raise her child. Now, though, she says it's not enough to live in San Diego.
“Water goes up, rent goes up, gas and electric goes up, groceries go up, oh wait, my wages never went up,” Lopez said.
So along with thousands of southern California grocery store workers, she cast a ballot.
Todd Walters, president of the local UFCW chapter, says Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs employees primarily want higher wages and to keep their health care coverage strong.
“All of our members have access to good, cheap, inexpensive health care, and they deserve that,” Walters said.
In a statement Albertsons said, “We are committed to working collaboratively with the unions to ensure that we reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, good for our customers and allows Albertsons Vons and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market.
But will a strike have an impact with so many options out there, like Trader Joes or even Amazon?
“Yea, there's a lot of places to shop, but our stores offer skilled workers who provide a service to the community,” Walters said.
Fresh memories of the 2003 grocery worker strike are another reason a strike could be a last resort option.
“None of us want to go through it again, but if we have to we're willing to go through it again. And I know our community will support us in that,” Lopez said.