TUSTIN, Calif. (KABC) -- Hundreds of unionized grocery store employees rallied outside a Ralphs in Tustin Monday as bargaining continued on their contract set to expire March 6.
The group of about 300 members was just a fraction of the 60,000 workers across Southern California at Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons, Stater Brothers and Gelson's stores affected by the contract.
Ralphs employee, Pio Figueroa, said workers were under increased stress mentally, emotionally and physically-especially during the pandemic.
"Not knowing who might be sick or not, trying to protect ourselves and our families," said Figueroa. "I've been chased through back rooms from customers who, you know, I've asked to put on masks."
Negotiations were underway Monday, and UFCW Local 324 President, Andrea Zinder, said it was time these essential workers got what they earned.
"We have a tremendous support from the customers who know what the workers have been through so I don't think the companies want to see us go out on strike," Zinder said. "But they've got to do the right thing by the workers in this contract. It is our turn."
At the top of their requests is a wage increase, followed by improved safety, security and staffing and predictable scheduling.
"Because the stores lately have been very low-staffed, it puts an additional burden on all of our members, and an even greater burden on the customers who are standing in line, who are seeing empty shelves just because the companies aren't paying enough to staff the stores," Zinder added.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, a spokesperson with Ralphs said the company's average hourly wage was at $19 an hour, plus health care and pension benefits.
The entire statement can be read below:
Negotiations between the grocers and UFCW made positive progress during last week's meetings and we have additional dates scheduled to continue negotiations through next weekend.
Ralphs remains committed to continuing to provide associates with an industry leading total compensation package, including competitive wages, premium health care benefits, and a pension for retirement. Our average hourly wage in Southern California is $19 an hour. When adding in the cost for health care and pension, our total compensation per associate is $25 an hour.
We want to reach an agreement with the Southern California Locals that is a win for everyone - when we work together, we win together. Please visit www.ralphscba.com for negotiations updates as they happen.
Shoppers can expect to see rallies like the one Monday continue throughout the week at the grocery stores involved.