Many South Pasadena residents recall the prolonged supermarket strike almost 16 years ago – and now, another walkout could be looming.
If long-stalled contract negotiations between management and unionized workers at Vons, Pavilions and Ralphs are unsuccessful, employees might walk out again, as the union recently authorized a strike.
It’s a regional dispute, not just a local one, as stores from San Diego to San Luis Obispo would be affected. Negotiations were set to continue this week, and no strike deadline was set.
Albertsons Companies of Idaho owns Vons and Pavilions, along with its namesake stores. Ralphs is owned by the Ohio-based The Kroger Co.
Employees are seeking better wages. They are typically offered less than 1 percent annual raises, according to news reports. Another union goal is to preserve health-care benefits and retirement plans. Salaries of clerks and meat cutters are also being discussed.
The employees have been working without a contract since March.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union represents the employees. According to a June 26 announcement by the union, 96 percent of its members voted to authorize a work stoppage if negotiations fail.
Managers in the South Pasadena stores declined to speak to the Review about the strike and referred inquiries to the corporate offices.
A representative of Ralphs’ parent company responded by affirming its commitment to employees.
“We are committed to continuing to invest in our associates, providing secure, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits,’’ said John Votava, Kroger’s director of corporate affairs.
However, he added that the company has to look toward the future.
“We also need to keep our company strong,” he said. “With a balanced approach, this agreement can be a win for everyone — our associates, our communities and our company.”
Votava said additional bargaining sessions are scheduled for later this month and early August.
Albertsons’ corporate office did not respond to the Review’s request for a statement.
The Review posed questions about contract terms to four South Pasadena Pavilions workers who were taking their breaks outside the store, and they were uncertain about the details of the dispute.
UFCW President John Grant’s announcement on June 26 about the vote for a strike is posted on the organization’s website. He said, “We overwhelmingly rejected corporate’s offer. … We win by showing the grocery executives that we won’t settle for their insulting offers, and we won’t back down in the face of corporate greed.”
Two local UFCW representatives did not respond request for a statement by press time.
Meanwhile, numerous shoppers in South Pasadena stores were unaware of the potential for a strike. Hearing about it, most interviewed by the Review were unconcerned.
“Honestly, I’d go somewhere else, like Trader Joe’s or Costco,” said South Pasadena resident Marilyn Wang in Vons on July 7.
“We do most of our shopping at Costco anyway,” she added.
Niroshaw Kahawatte, who was shopping in Ralphs for his family, said of the strike, “If the store closes, that’s a big problem.”
However, he pointed out there were other stores near his Los Angeles home that he could patronize.
South Pasadena resident Pauline Schneider was at Pavilions on Monday. She is a regular shopper there.
“I wouldn’t cross the picket line if a strike was called,” she said. “I’d go to Bristol Farms.”
Another resident was concerned about customers’ access to prescription medications if the employees went on strike.
“I am mostly concerned about the pharmacy because it is very convenient,” resident Bob Parada said at Pavilions. “If they went on strike, I’d cheat. I’d cross the picket line.”
A call to the pharmacy at Pavilions confirmed that the pharmacy employees are part of the same union as the clerks and other grocery workers.
One reason customers expressed little concern about the potential strike is that, compared to the 2003-2004 work stoppage, many more shopping alternatives now exist.
New local grocery stores include Amazon’s Whole Foods Market on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena along with Sprouts and Aldi in Alhambra on Main Street. Ethnic-food stores abound. In addition, Walmart and Target now carry groceries.
Also, many grocery outlets now offer online ordering with delivery or pickup options. These services make visiting a retail grocery store unnecessary.
A longtime employee of the South Pasadena Ralphs who did not want to be identified said while salaries and benefits were at stake, “strikes don’t help anyone.”