San Diego

Grocery Store Workers Inch Closer to Strike as Negotiations Come to Crawl

Thousands of San Diego grocery store workers could be inching closer to a strike if they can’t negotiate better pay with their big chain employers.

Grocery workers say they deserve and need a pay increase to afford living in Southern California but local grocery stores like Ralphs are apparently stalling on contract negotiations with the workers’ union.

The last time we saw a strike from grocery store workers was more than 15 years ago.

They planned a Friday rally at a Ralphs in Mission Valley to let the stores know they’re serious. A group of clerks, butchers and deli employees were joined by local politicians and other union workers.

"I hope the company listens, I hope that they see that we deserve better, I hope they see we are strong and united, I hope they see that we mean business. You know respect us, we are the ones that make the money for you," said Jessica Lopez, a Vons employee for over 17 years.

Lopez was among the thousands who went on strike in 2003 when they fought for better wages and says she's ready to do so again. 

“The unions are fed up. The members are fed up. We've had enough,” United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) President Todd Walters said.

Walters said he's met 26 times with Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons to negotiate wage increases and affordable healthcare.

"When we've given them legitimate proposals, they counter propose with nickels,” Walters said. "It’s an insult. My members work hard. They work in coolers, freezers, they work with fryers."

The union’s last contract expired in March. Negotiations usually last for months, but as time goes on, the UFCW’s 46,000 Southern California workers get closer to striking.

Last month, UFCW workers voted in favor of authorizing a strike, giving the union the power to call one for its members, though leaders haven't yet ordered a strike. 

Walters said they don’t want a repeat of 2003 but said they will if they must.

"We're not getting rich. We're not trying to break the banks here. We're just trying to stay competitive in San Diego," Walters said.

Negotiations will pick back up again next week. If the union can’t reach an agreement, its next step is voting on whether a strike is on the table.

Ralphs corporate office sent the following statement to NBC 7:

"The negotiations process can take time to reach reasonable solutions that are best for our associates, our communities and our company. Customers will find all of our stores in San Diego County and throughout Southern California accessible, fully stocked with fresh merchandise and staffed by our friendly associates. We will continue to meet with the unions Thursday, Aug. 22 through Sunday, Aug. 25 to work toward a fair and balanced agreement for everyone involved."

Albertson's, Vons and Pavilions sent NBC 7 the following statement:

"Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions remain committed to reaching an agreement that will provide our employees with a competitive compensation package that includes good wages, maintains their affordable health care and provides for their retirement while, at the same time, continuing to keep our Company competitive in the Southern California market."

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