In 2003 into 2004, the United Food & Commercial Workers' 70,000 members throughout Southern California were embroiled in a labor dispute that lasted 141 days. Now, with approximately 62,000 members and a contract that expired three months ago, it appears the UFCW may be heading down the same path.
In 2003/2004, the UFCW essentially ended the dispute by accepting the same offer (or nearly the same offer) that it had gone on strike over. UFCW members, as one striker wrote, found trying survive off of $100 per week in strike pay too difficult.
Strike pay has been forced to be cut to $100 a week in my local. We can't hold out any longer. I wish I had some good news, but it looks like we're going to be going down in flames.
Nearly eight years since the last big strike, the majority of voting UFCW members recently voted to authorize their union negotiators to call them out on the picket lines again, if necessary.
In San Diego (and, presumably, elsewhere), if the union does strike, the UFCW will "urge" local shoppers to respect their picket lines.
The region's main labor organization today will urge San Diegans to respect picket lines in case grocery workers go on strike today at noon in the Mission Valley area.
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council said a job action would involve 10,000 supermarket employees.
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."
Meanwhile, the grocery chains are stating that the offers presented to the union, thus far, are "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.
While a strike may be called at any time, the union locals and the supermarket chains are still in negotiations.
If it comes down to a strike, with the non-union competition in Southern California greater than it was seven years ago, shoppers (if they choose not to cross the picket lines) will likely not starve.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776