Ralphs grocers reach contract for wage raises

Grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions ratified a three-year contract Sunday with their employer, Stater Bros., which includes significant wage increases, improved healthcare benefits and secured pension provisions. The deal applies to the Ralphs workers at the Vermont Avenue and West Adams Boulevard store, which many USC community members frequent to buy groceries and other supplies. 

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 8GS, 135, 324, 770, 1167 and 1428 voted April 4 in favor of the deal. The Union represents 40,000 Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons workers whose contracts ended March 6. The unionized workers planned to strike ahead of the negotiations, but the favorable conditions presented at the table negated a strike from happening. Target and Trader Joe’s, both located in the USC Village, were not affected by the negotiations and contract. 

Shyli Akhare, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said she was worried about a potential strike creating slowdowns in grocery stores.

“I would say that I think it’s a good thing that they’re advocating for the rights, and I feel like it’s about time that some change happens in the community,” Akhare said.

Mackenzie Martin, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said that because of the high cost of living in Los Angeles, she believes that workers should be paid a reasonable wage amount. 

“I think that inventory might be low, and it might be harder for us to get any customer service when we are shopping, but I feel like the protests are necessary and it’s for the greater good,” Martin said.

Contract negotiations date back to March 7. Six UFCW locals said in a statement Saturday that the unification of its members secured a historic contract for a “fair deal.” UFCW represents and advocates for workers in healthcare, retail, grocery, packing and cannabis.

In a statement made by Ralphs, the company stated its three goals in negotiations with the union: reward workers, keep groceries affordable for customers and maintain a sustainable business model for an expanding workforce. 

Homero Vasquez, a Ralphs worker on Vermont Boulevard, said the “not good part” has been waiting for payments.

“It’s kind of good just because we’re gonna get a bit better pay,” Vasquez said. “The thing is that we got to wait to get the full amount.”

Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs, said the company is pleased with the agreement because it will secure money in 18,000 associates’ paychecks, protect healthcare and create effective pension plans.

Pio Figueroa, a worker at the same Ralphs as Vasquez, noted that when the contract terms were first released, the provisions were not adequate. He believed that for the hard work grocery workers do all day, they deserve higher wages and healthcare benefits. Figueroa said he is satisfied with the terms finalized in the ratified contract.

“There was definitely a fight back and forth and negotiation table, but we’re definitely proud to be where we’re at,” Figueroa said. “That was only possible from all the hard work that we’re doing in the stores, all the organizing and all the communications that we’ve been doing with our coworkers.”

Union workers made signs for a looming strike at UFCW 77 Headquarters located in Koreatown Saturday. Workers wanted $5 raises and were met with a 60-cent counteroffer. 

Figueroa said communication between workers to unite was mostly done through a special credit union representative. He visited the three different stores throughout Orange County and spoke with coworkers about better contract provisions. 

“When these terms come into effect, this will definitely set a gold standard for what other contracts are negotiated throughout the country,” Figueroa said. “I think this definitely sets the standard for what’s possible with contracts not only in the grocery industry, but industries throughout the country. We really prove that anything is possible especially when we organize and we get united.”