Regional AFL-CIO says it will support grocery workers if they strike

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The umbrella group representing unions across the region announced its support Tuesday for grocery store workers considering a strike.

The head of the regional AFL-CIO lent its support to some 10,000 Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons employees, saying she would ask more than 190,000 union members to shop elsewhere, and the AFL-CIO would set up a fund to pay workers if they strike.

“We will not let affected workers go without support,” said Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. “My heart is heavy because the idea of a long strike can be devastating.”

Local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which voted to authorize a strike in April, are negotiating contracts with the stores. They have been working under the terms of a contract that was extended after it expired in March.

Mickey Kasparian, the head of the UFCW in San Diego, said union negotiators wanted the stores to pay the same share of their health care benefits as in the past, but their opponents want the employees to pay up to 80 percent of the costs.

Kasparian said the issue was the same as the one that prompted a 141-day strike in 2003-04.

UFCW spokeswoman Ellen Anreder said negotiations were continuing. A federal mediator, she said, banned the two sides from publicly discussing the specifics of the talks.

A statement released by the three supermarket chains called any talk of a strike “unnecessary,” since negotiation were continuing.

“The only place where we can reach an agreement is at the bargaining table, and we believe our focus should be there, reaching a fair and reasonable contract,” the store statement said.

The chains also said their health care proposal was “reasonable.”

“Although the proposal makes some changes to the current health and welfare plan, employees would pay as little as $9 a week for coverage; receive coverage if they work just 16 hours per week, depending on their job; and have access to an excellent health care plan that allows them to receive comprehensive coverage for themselves and their families,” the statement said.

Categories: KUSI