Friday, September 16, 2011

Strike Wave 2011: SoCal Grocery Workers Ready to Strike

As so typically happens in these situations, the negotiators for the supermarkets have stonewalled, bullied and generally blown off Southern California grocery workers during their contract negotiations. Fed up, the grocery workers have issued a 72-hour notice canceling the contract extension they had conceded to the bosses, the OB Rag reported this morning, setting the groundwork for a strike.

The contract negotiations have been going on for the past nine months. The union, by its own admission, has agreed to numerous concessions to help keep the food giants (Ralph’s, Vons and Albertson’s) highly profitable. Yet management continues to insist on a health care plan that would effectively eliminate access entirely for 62,000 workers.

Many of the workers recognize that this is no longer just about them versus their bosses, but part of the largest assault on working and living conditions for all workers. The ruling elite, including the grocery bosses, see this as an historic moment, when unions are weaker than they’ve been in generations and when the public has little sympathy for them. They believe they can successfully make whatever demands they choose on employees and that employees will graciously accept these demands rather than face unemployment.

However, you can only push people so far before they start to fight back. Apparently, completely gutting health care was that point for grocery workers.

If grocery workers do go on strike next week, it would be the largest U.S. strike in years, bigger than even the recent Verizon strike. However, a strike is not yet certain. Cancellation of the contract is a step in that direction, but negotiations could continue with a contract and a deal (or sell out) being worked out before a strike occurs.

Nevertheless, it seems that some of the union presidents have given up on a settlement. Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324 in Orange County, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, "It's time to bring these negotiations to an end. . . The talks have been going at a glacial pace. . . If the employers don't snap out of it, and give our members a proposal that we can live with, the only option we have left is a strike."

Grocery workers last struck in California in 2003. The strike lasted 141 days and cost the employers an estimated $2 billion, according to the Times. However, it also cost employees a bundle since they were without work for nearly five months. The struggle ended with a sell-out contract negotiated by the union bosses after a very weak effort by the union bosses to build solidarity with other unions.

Grocery workers face many of the same difficulties today. Many of the jobs can be done by scabs with little or no experience. In today’s climate of high unemployment, it should not be difficult for the grocery bosses to find an army of eager strike breakers. Therefore, simply refusing to work and picketing the stores will be insufficient. They will have to also convince teamsters to refuse to deliver products to the stores. They will need the ILWU to refuse to unload cargo destined for the stores. They will need to convince shoppers to take their business else, which will not be easy, since everyone is struggling right now, and few have the time, money and options to shop elsewhere.


  1. If these jobs can be done by "scabs" with little or no experience than why should the companies comply with their demands? I suggest the companies fire them all and then let them reapply for their jobs at a realistic wage.
    I worked as cashier and stocker in college. With the technology in place now this is a $10 an hour job.

  2. From the bosses' perspective, of course they should all be fired or paid next to nothing. This is why they need solidarity and need to go well beyond simply stopping work and picketing in order to win.

    On the other hand, no one should have to work for $10 hour, especially not in southern California where 10/hr is a poverty wage.

    Just b/c you got reamed in college doesn't mean anyone else should. Also, there is a lot more to the picture than the difficulty of a job. Time is money. Simply having to work for someone else at all and spend your person time helping someone else make a profit is worth money. If we only look at how much physical labor is required, the bosses shouldn't get paid a cent. They don't do any physical labor.

    but then again, I don't think bosses should exist in the first place.

    Call me old fashioned.