In 2003, the United Food & Commercial Workers engaged in what turned out to be a 141-day labor dispute in which the union lost. While the dispute cost the supermarket chains hundreds of millions in sales during the strike, UFCW members were devastated.
Now, nearly eight years later, the UFCW is ready to hit the picket lines again in what can only be described as a M.A.D. [Mutually Assured Destruction] strategy.
Following strike votes taken over the last month, Southern California could see a strike any day encompassing tens of thousands of union members.
Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs stores in Southern California employ 65,000 workers. They are represented by seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union: 8, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442
However, if the UFCW does strike again, with the exception of some inconvenience of changing buying habits in the early days of the strike, the Southern California grocery-buying public may actually turn out benefiting from a UFCW job action as non-union grocers and their employees will likely thrive.
“There’s drug chains selling groceries, dollar stores (99 Cents Only) selling, as well as Walmart, Target and Costco, and nontraditional format operators,” said Meg Major, editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, a trade publication based in Deerfield, Ill.
“A lot of independents have emerged as a first stop in the minds of many consumers,” Major said.
In Southern California, the list of grocery retailers is a long one, and includes a wide array of fiercely competitive independents and ethnic-oriented chains.
Should a strike happen, said Mary Gotaas, supermarket analyst with IBISWorld Inc., “The shift will be to shop more at the ethnic stores in San Diego because they have a higher ratio there than elsewhere in the region.”
In the 2003-2004 strike, the non-union Jimbo’s —- which has locations in Carlsbad, Carmel Valley, Escondido and 4S Ranch —- saw sales initially jump 40-50 percent over what they saw before the strike.
A key executive in charge of another Southern California-based independent supermarket chain with operations in San Diego County said sales at his non-union stores grew 5-10 percent as a result of the nearly 20-week strike seven years ago.
“Obviously, if they do strike, we’d have to react, and look at additional labor —- such as extending the hours of our part-timers,” he said. “Our management team is aware of the situation, and we are watching it.”
Given the UFCW’s current trajectory toward a strike, as was the case nearly eight years ago, if the strike lasts any length of time, in addition to losing their wages (see strike-cost calculator here), UFCW members may ultimately lose the one thing that keeps them employed—their customers.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776