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Another supermarket strike imminent?

August 25, 2011

Negotiations between union workers and Vons and its parent company Safeway will begin Aug. 29. Workers have voted to approve a strike, but according to union representatives a strike is a tool of last resort. File photo

Workers for the local Vons stores, along with 62,000 other employees, voted by a 90 percent margin this week to strike if contract demands are not met. Negotiations between the workers’ union and Safeway – Vons’ parent corporation – have been ongoing since March when the current contract expired.
Negotiations between union workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons and their parent companies will begin Aug. 29 with a federal mediator.
Ellen Anreder, spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 8, which includes Inyo County and nine stores with more than 800 employees, said that a strike is a “tool of last resort” and that the union hopes for “positive negotiations and a positive outcome.”
She said the union’s “number one priority is the contract.”
Anreder said that while the exact details of the negotiations cannot be divulged per the mandates of the federal negotiator, she said she could explain the problem the workers face. According to Anreder, the employers have proposed raising the health care contributions from employees by thousands of dollars annually. However, even with the rate hike, Anreder explained, the employer’s proposed contribution is so small the health care “fund” for employees would run out in 18-21 months.
“For years this workforce has sacrificed wage increases for the benefits package,” Anreder said. “These employees have earned these benefits.”
According to the website for the UFCW Local 8, “At special meetings in Bakersfield, Bishop, Mojave and Ridgecrest, you voted decisively to reject the latest contract proposals from Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons.
“After you voted, a federal mediator called both sides back to the table for intensive bargaining to begin Aug. 29.”
When asked what it would take for a strike to be called, Anreder said, “It’s hard to say and everybody wants an answer.”
She said that the unions are prepared to go “’round the clock” at the negotiating table and have been since the contract ended in March. She added the contract is massive and incredibly complicated and negotiations could drag on for weeks.
“There will not be a resolution in one day,” Anreder said.
Local Vons workers went on strike for 141 days in 2003-04 at a cost to the supermarket chain and its parent company Safeway, Inc., of nearly $2 billion.

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