- Union negotiators representing workers at Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Ralphs supermarkets in Southern California announced on Monday that they have reached a tentative labor agreement with the grocery chains, avoiding a potential strike.
- The deal between seven United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals and the Albertsons- and Kroger-owned banners, which is contingent on ratification by workers, covers pay, health and retirement benefits, and store safety.
- The agreement comes at a time when grocers have been struggling to hire and retain workers amid a persistent labor shortage and low unemployment.
The UFCW locals involved in hammering out the agreement with Kroger and Albertsons hailed the deal as a significant improvement over the contract terms that have been in place.
"This transformative, member-led deal includes significant wage increases, guaranteed hours for part time workers, stronger health benefits, improved store safety and a secured pension," UFCW Local 770 said in a statement about the agreement, without providing further details.
The accord follows a vote in March by workers represented by the seven UFCW locals involved in the negotiations authorizing strikes against the banners "should that become necessary."
The locals also filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the grocers had engaged in unfair labor practices. The three Albertsons banners involved in the agreement and Kroger-owned Ralphs had distributed "token" bonuses instead of bargaining over wage increases, intimidating workers, the unions claimed. In addition, the labor groups said that Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores conducted "unlawful surveillance of workers" protesting low wages and short hours and said Ralphs used non-union ghost kitchens to prepare food.
In a statement, Ralphs indicated it was satisfied with the terms of the deal. "We are pleased that this agreement allows us to put more money in our associates’ paychecks and secures healthcare and pension plans,” Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs, said in an emailed statement.
Albertsons also confirmed that it has reached an agreement with the unions representing its workers in Southern California.
The pact follows a short strike by workers at Kroger's King Soopers and City Market chain in Colorado in January that led to a revised contract between the grocer and UFCW Local 7.
Tensions between grocers and the unions that represent their workers have been occurring against a backdrop of a tight job market.
Grocery store employment in the United States has recently begun to increase following monthly declines in December and January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food and beverage stores added just over 4,000 jobs in February and then roughly 18,000 more in March, the agency reported.
Jeff Wells contributed reporting to this story.