Thousands of California grocery workers ratify new contract

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tens of thousands of California grocery store workers have approved a new contract with major supermarket chains, avoiding a potential strike, it was announced Thursday.

Union members in the central and southern areas of the state ratified a tentative deal that was reached last week. It grants some 47,000 employees higher wages, stronger health benefits, increased guaranteed hours for part-time workers, improved store safety and a secured pension, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said in a statement.

Most workers will receive pay hikes of $4.25 per hour over three years, the union said, with higher raises for some employees.

The contract also includes provisions to establish health and safety committees at every Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions store so that employees will have a say on safety issues, the union said in a statement.

Front-line workers, including at grocery stores, were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After more than two years of risking their lives to serve California’s communities as essential workers, reaching a fair contract with better wage increases, health care improvements, and protected pensions for these hard-working members could not have come at a more important time,” said a statement by seven union locals.

“We made history!” Erika Bentzen, a food clerk at a Ralphs in Thousand Oaks who was on the bargaining team, said in a union statement. “This was the first time members were part of the negotiations and I believe it made a difference having us there. This is the best contract in the country.”

The contract takes immediate effect and covers about 540 stores.

The previous three-year contract expired March 6 and workers had voted to authorize a strike if an agreement wasn’t reached.

In 2019, employees of Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons voted to authorize a strike but contracts ultimately were reached without a walkout.

A 2003-04 strike and lockout put nearly 70,000 Southern California grocery workers on picket lines for more than four months.

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