Grocery unions call for arbitration

Presidents of the seven locals of striking and locked out Southern California grocery workers appeared in simultaneous press conferences in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Palm Desert and San Diego on Feb. 4 making public a joint letter challenging three supermarket CEOs to submit the strike’s outstanding issues to binding arbitration. They say that the companies have refused to budge from their original demands which would gut the health care of union members and their families.

The union leaders said that their proposal will “put the companies’ intentions to the test.” Under the union’s proposal, the strike/lockout would end, with all striking/locked out workers returning to work immediately. Replacement workers would be terminated and all terms of the expired contract would be extended until the arbitrator’s decision was issued.

“We believe strongly enough in the merits supporting our bargaining proposal that we are willing to put their fate in the hands of an objective third party,” said the presidents’ letter.

Five days earlier, in an impressive display of solidarity, 14,000 rank and file union members gathered in the parking lot of the historic Fabulous Forum here forming a rally stretching the length of Kareem Court in support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union members. Strikers and their supporters walked eight abreast with the Farmworkers union leading the way to the nearest Vons store.

Falling in behind were contingents of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, AFT College Guild, Machinists, Longshoremen, Teamsters, Laborers, Painters, Screen Actors, Autoworkers, Service Employees, Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Communication Workers, Electrical workers, Utility workers, Theatrical Stage Employees and Needletrades, Industrial and Textile employees.

Inglewood and the Fabulous Forum were once the famous home of the L.A. Lakers and its adjacent Prairie Avenue was known as the “Avenue of Champions.” This Saturday it was the Avenue of Heroes as workers from every industry and sector came together to defend the grocery workers who have been on the picket line since Oct. 11.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart, the giant nonunion retailer, has gone to work in Inglewood. Financing a front “community” organization, Wal-Mart is sponsoring a ballot initiative to repeal the Inglewood city ordinance that bans “big box” stores. If the Wal-Mart initiative passes, they will be allowed to build there, making Inglewood a strategic battleground for the UFCW.

At the Jan. 31 rally, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer told the crowd that he is filing suit against Safeway (which owns Vons and Pavilion), Albertsons and Ralphs for violating federal

antitrust laws by forming a financial pact to protect their profits. The three rival grocers agreed last August to share revenue and costs incurred by their Southern California stores during the strike, a practice the lawsuit calls a “conspiracy.” Lockyer says this is unlawful, anti-competitive conduct that keeps prices artificially high and made it clear he intends to enforce the law.

PWW readers can do their part to support grocery workers. Contact Safeway CEO Steven Burd, 925-467-3000, steven.burd@safeway.com, Kroger President Dave Dillon, 513-762-4000, david.dillon@kroger.com, Albertsons CEO Larry Johnston, 208-395-6200, larry.johnston@albertsons.com. Tell them to negotiate in good faith and provide workers with affordable health care!

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org. Armando Ramirez and Roberta Wood contributed to this story.