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