Southern California grocery union officials delivered good news for the 47,000 rank-and-file members who as recently as Tuesday had been bracing for a strike over stalled contract talks.
Food for Less grocery workers and the Kroger Corporation backed away from the edge of a cliff Tuesday, following weeks of a labor standoff. Both sides averted a potentially devastating strike with a tentative labor agreement whose proposed contract covers some 6,500 workers at 90 stores throughout Southern California.
Employees authorized a strike in July and then launched a consumer boycott in the face of Kroger’s threat to slash contributions to medical plans, reduce hours and transfer the work of higher-paid employees to those lower on the wage scale.
In mid-August hundreds of workers turned out on informational picket lines and urged consumers to shop elsewhere. During this time, Kroger recruited strike-busters from Ralphs, another grocery chain it owns.
Why did Kroger refuse to budge? The Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 Company that owns Food 4 Less, Ralphs and Frys recorded a half-billion-dollar profit for the first quarter of 2014,
I recently had the privilege of attending a banquet recognizing Walmart workers who have dedicated themselves to winning policy changes that affect the way they are treated by this retail giant. The event was held at the First AME Church of Los Angeles, which has been in the forefront of fighting for civil rights and social justice.
Many stories shared by the workers reflected the nightmare that is their Walmart employment experience. One very nervous young woman spoke of being seriously injured when luggage from a storage rack fell on her back. Her supervisors refused to administer medical attention or even call for an ambulance; she had to drive herself to a hospital.
There are warehouse workers at subcontracted facilities who find themselves working in trailers whose temperatures reach more than 100 degrees – such workers are faced with limited water availability and supervisors who don’t permit frequent breaks for employees to cool down.
There’s power in the picket line. And employers know it.
That’s why, in 2008, Ralphs Grocery Company sued to have union picketers removed from the front of one of its non-union stores. But California has explicit laws to protect labor-related speech, and the court denied the request by Ralphs.
But that hasn’t stopped the grocery chain from continuing its courtroom battle to silence workers – even though they’ve lost just about every case. Last December, California’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling in favor of the picketers. Speaking for the California Supreme Court’s 6-1 ruling in the Union’s favor, Justice Joyce Kennard wrote that the 1975 state law and follow-up legislation passed in 1999 are
“. . . justified by the state’s interest in promoting collective bargaining to resolve labor disputes, and the understanding that the area outside the entrance of the targeted business often is the most effective point of persuasion.”
And last week,
After spending more than $1.6 billion, Tesco, the world’s third- largest food retailer, has finally thrown in the towel and announced the closure of its Fresh & Easy stores. This move brings closure to the British company’s effort to establish a foothold in California’s highly competitive grocery industry. Many analysts believe this decision has been a long time coming, with Fresh & Easy stores never seeing the kind of market penetration that the U.K.-based giant expected from the chain. Investors cheered the December 5 announcement, but U.S. workers have reason to celebrate too — this marks the end of a five-year struggle with Tesco.
Like most new entrants into the grocery market field, Tesco planned to operate non-union. Indeed, a Tesco employee-relations director described the primary responsibilities of that job in an advertisement as “maintaining non-union status” and “union avoidance activities.” The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) sought to organize the company,