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Union grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons begin strike vote Monday

Union grocery workers began voting today on whether to authorize a strike against three major grocery stores in Southern California. Workers claim the companies are engaging in unfair labor practices during contract negotiations. KPBS reporter Alexander Nguyen has the details.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) begins its strike authorization vote Monday for workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertons grocery stores in Southern California.

Negotiations between the union and Southern California stores broke off on March 6. The union called the companies’ offer of a wage increase to be well below workers' cost-of-living needs. UFCW also accuses Ralphs of outsourcing food preparation to non-union kitchens.

RELATED: Grocery workers authorize strike vote against SoCal supermarkets


Ralphs, whose parent company is Kroger, said its average hourly wage is just under $19 an hour, and that rises to a rate of $25 an hour when you add in the health and pension benefits.

A company statement said 50% of Ralphs' "associates" have been with the company for at least 10 years.

"We are investing more than ever before in our associates by expanding our industry-leading benefits, including continuing education and tuition reimbursement, training and development, health, and wellness, as well as continued investment in wages," Ralphs said in the statement.

The contract proposed by the stores offers an additional 60 cents an hour every year — an extra $1.80 an hour over the life of the contract.

To the union, the greatest issue is wages. Todd Walters, president of the UCFW, local 135 in San Diego, said as the California minimum wage goes up, many union workers will soon be making no more than that.


“Over the years we’ve given up wage increases to protect our healthcare and pension," Walters said. "And now we’ve fallen behind on the wage side of it. And this is our chance to catch up on the wages, and have our members get a livable wage for San Diego.”

Inflation has become a great hardship for grocery workers, he said.

Workers will cast their votes on Monday at the Machinists' Hall in Chula Vista, Tuesday at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, and Wednesday UFCW's headquarters in Mission Valley. Voting will continue in other Southern California cities through March 26, with results expected to be announced afterward.

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