Thousands of retail clerks in Southern California, workers for Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, and Ralph’s grocery stores, overwhelmingly approved their union to organize a strike, if needed, in the near future. Their union’s contract with the grocery store chains expired in March.
The balloting took place by members of Local #135 of the United Food & Commercial Workers on June 24 and 25, at the union’s Mission Valley and San Marcos offices. “The vote was approved,” said a union spokesperson on June 26.
Local union members joined with 29,000 other grocery workers from 532 stores in Southern California, in support of a strike.
In front of the Ralph’s store on Aveineda Encinas in South Carlsbad, Seth from Leucadia said, if the labor action is called, he would support the strikers by going to Sprouts or Trader Joe’s. “It does create a tricky situation, “ he said. “I guess we’d be, in essence, crossing the picket line by going to those non-union stores.”
Mark from Oceanside, on his lunch break, said a strike would not change his shopping habits. “I’ll still shop here,” he said, as he quickly grabbed a sandwich.
Susan from Carlsbad is a retried grocery store union worker. She said she will absolutely support the strikers by not shopping at Ralph’s, but at other union grocery chains. Gelson’s, Food 4 Less, and Stater Brothers are union stores, but not involved in the current contract negotiations.
The last major SoCal grocery strike was in 2003. It was expected to last a few days. It ended up lasting almost five months, and some workers gave up their careers and sought other employment. Some strikers stood fast with the union.
The general feeling in the industry is the grocery stores owners won the 2003 strike, with workers able to maintain their income and benefits, but not gaining any.
Unlike previous threats of labor actions, the three grocery stores I visited didn’t yet have signs advising of possible temporary employment opportunities should a strike be called.
Representatives from Albertsons/Vons and Ralph’s and the unions have scheduled several more meetings in July.
The grocery industry points out that times have changed dramatically since 2003. Once the leaders in the grocery business, the big three chains must now complete for the consumer’s food dollar with Walmart, Target, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, 99 Cent Only, and Dollar Tree stores.
The Encinitas Vons, at 262 North El Camino Real, was one of four stores in the 2003 strike where the union would call for large rallies and protests for the TV cameras.
On June 27, just a block down the street, ALDI’s Encinitas store will open – the sixth ALDI’s location in San Diego County, one of 200 new ADLI’s opening soon in the U.S. By the end of 2020, the German-owned, non-union stores plan to move up to become the third largest grocery chain in the U.S.