Southern California grocery store workers seek new deal as strike fears loom

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- There are growing fears of a possible strike after the contract for thousands of Southern California grocery workers expired Monday without a new agreement.

The grocery store union is demanding that the supermarket chain Ralphs provide higher wages, better benefits, and more staffing.

Officials at Kroger, which owns Ralphs, say the average wage for its nearly 30,000 employees in California is $19 an hour and when adding in the cost of healthcare and pension, the total compensation per employee is $25 an hour.

Supermarket workers picketed stores in Baldwin Hills and Tustin last week while the union and supermarkets were in negotiations.

The union posted on Twitter to its members that despite not reaching an agreement, the terms and conditions of the previous contract are still in effect.

"When we began negotiations with Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions in January, we came prepared with comprehensive proposals and a clear path toward negotiating a contract that reflects your value and the sacrifices you have made,'' the union said in a series of tweets to its members. "We are disheartened to inform you that Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions squandered the unique opportunity to propose a contract with better wages and benefits in a time of immense profit. They have failed.''

Ralphs said in a statement their stores will remain open and staffed even though the labor contract with the union has expired.

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Thousands of grocery workers in SoCal are working without a contract after their most recent one expired at midnight, raising fears of a possible strike as negotiations continue.

"It's unfortunate that substantial progress toward reaching an agreement was not made during our 12 total days of bargaining with the union,'' said Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs. "While the company made several wage proposals, the union continues to propose very costly items which impacts our ability to meet customer needs and remain competitive.''

Ralphs said it is open to meeting with union leaders to reach a deal that provides more money for every associate, keeps groceries affordable for customers and maintains a sustainable business model.

Members of the UFCW Local 770 work at Albertsons, Gelson's, Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Bros., and Vons stores in Southern California.

"Negotiations are a process and we're committed to reaching an agreement no matter how long it takes,'' Branton said in a statement. "We are hopeful the union will return to the bargaining table with renewed interest in reaching a balanced agreement.''

No word yet on when the two sides will meet again.

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