Union workers at San Diego’s major supermarkets took their contract dispute to the public on Monday, with dozens gathered in front of the Ralphs on Sports Arena Boulevard demanding higher wages and better benefits
“It is hard to pay for some stuff, especially the rents here in San Diego,” Patricia Figueroa, an Albertson’s employee, told NBC 7 on Monday. “They are really expensive."
Union grocery workers at Albertsons, Gelson’s Markets, Ralphs, Stater Bros., and Vons, who are due for a new contract at the end of the week, are looking for better compensation, but so far they say their employers aren’t budging.
“We recently started negotiating with Kroger, and sitting at the bargaining table they looked down at us last Thursday and said 55 cents [of an increase was their offer],” said Todd Walters, UFCW Local Union President.
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“Fifty-five cents is not acceptable,” Figuera said. “Look at the price of the food, of the gasoline.”
Grocery workers were on strike from late 2003 and into early 2004, with shoppers choosing whether to cross picket lines to buy groceries. Some consumers developed new shopping habits as a result.
Kroger owns all Ralphs stores. Last month, a survey of its workers found that food insecurity among its grocery workers is seven times the national average.
“We’re not asking for handouts,” said Dora Castillo, a Ralphs employee. "We’re asking for deserved wages."
In a statement, a Ralphs representative said is is committed to continuing to provide associates with an industry-leading total compensation package. It said its average hourly wage in Southern California is $19 and, when adding health care and pension costs, total compensation goes up to $25 an hour.
Union leaders said Albertsons and Vons, which are owned by the same company, also offered a 55 cent increase. Gelson's has yet to make an offer, the added, and said Stater Bros. has not responded to their meeting request.
“We work really hard,” Figuera said. "We’re essential. I know a lot of people are essential right now, but we’ve been there for the community."
Grocery chains have until the end of Sunday to come up with a new offer. For now, union grocery employees will keep pushing for higher wages, hoping their fight doesn’t have to turn ugly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want to strike, but we’re going to get some money,” Walters said.
The local union food and commercial workers union chapter represents almost 9,000 workers in San Diego. We reached out to Vons, Albertsons, Gelson's and Stater Bros. for comment but have yet to hear back from them.