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Over 60,000 SoCal grocery store workers see union contract expire, negotiations underway

Grocery store workers demonstrating outside a Fontana Ralphs on March 8, 2022.
Jonathan Linden
91.9 KVCR
Grocery store workers demonstrating outside a Fontana Ralphs on March 8, 2022.

Over 60,000 supermarket workers across Southern California had their union contract expire on Sunday.

The local UFCW union says their main demands for their members are improved safety and security, better staffing, and fair wages.

"There's some real serious issues at the bargaining table, and it's not just going to impact our members in retail grocery, it's going to impact a lot of people that are not union members because we generally set the tone for the industry," said UCFW Local 1167 President Joe Duffle.

Currently, many grocery workers have to wait more than six years to become full-time, Duffle says they're trying to change that. "If you don't get the hours, the wages really don't matter. If you're only getting 24 to 28 hours a week, you can make $25 an hour, you're still going to struggle, and so our goal has always been to make more full-time jobs available," said Duffle.

Currently, the union is not threatening a strike, but Duffle says that it's not out of consideration.

Gail Merki has been working for Ralphs for 34 years and described her working experience during the pandemic. " When people didn't want to come out of their homes, we did. We dealt with people that were hoarding and had zero consideration for others, and yet, we did what we needed to do. We took care of business when it was the hardest, and we never complained. We just plugged along and did what we could to take care of each other," said Merki.

Merki says she's started to see a larger employee turnover in the last two years as other companies have started to offer more competitive starting wages. "The turnover is crazy, and we just need to do something to entice these employees to want to stay, and it's going to take some work," said Merki.

Other than Ralphs, the other stores affected by the negotiations are Albertsons, Gelson's, Pavilions, Vons, and Stater Brothers.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.