Thousands of grocery workers to vote on latest contract offer

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Unionized workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons supermarkets in San Diego County and around Southern California are voting Friday on whether to accept the latest contract offer or authorize a strike.

Union leaders contend the stores are trying to take away the workers' health care benefits. The market chain deny the claim.

“It sounds like negotiations have been going on for months and nothing's changed,” said Donna Pepper, who works at a Mid-City Albertsons.

She said her colleagues at a morning meeting at the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley were angry and bitter.

“We feel not respected,” Pepper said.

Mickey Kasparian, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, said he recommended that the latest offer by employers — presented Wednesday — be rejected.

He called the offer one of very slight movement on the part of employers, while the unions offered larger concessions earlier in the week.

Results of the voting should be known by late Saturday or Sunday morning, according to Kasparian.

He said a federal mediator has asked for the vote totals and expects more negotiating sessions in the future, but he said if there is no positive movement after about five or six days, a strike could be called.

“If we don't get a deal, we'll take this fight to the streets,” Kasparian said.

Officials of the grocery chains said recently that their proposals would limit employees' costs and raise company contributions to a health care fund. It would also maintain the current prescription drug co-payments and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximums in the PPO plan.

The companies also proposed to continue offering an HMO option, with no change to medication co-payments.

Kasparian called the proposal inadequate.

The 62,000 union grocery workers at the three chains in Southern California have already authorized a strike, if necessary, but Kasparian said he wanted to present the most recent offer to UFCW members and give them another chance to consider whether they should walk off the job.

A grocery workers strike and lockout that began in 2003 lasted 141 days.

Categories: KUSI