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Cooperation prevails in grocery talks

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Posted: September 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Residents of the Santa Clarita Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief earlier this week, when it was announced that the local grocery store employee union officials had struck a three-year deal with store management to avoid another strike like the one in 2003.

The deal came after eight months of back-and-forth exchanges and, finally, round-the-clock talks between both sides that went through the discussion deadline on Sunday.

Those who remember the last worker strike will recall that it involved being forced to cross picket lines and often deal with, shall we say, subpar employees once inside. Those shoppers not willing to cross picket lines were forced to find other, less convenient, alternatives.

But this time around would have led to the temporary shuttering of many stores, including all Ralphs locations and several Albertsons locations, though Vons was determined to not close its doors.

While many shoppers would have simply turned to relatively new alternatives, such as Walmart or Whole Foods, many others would have had to either drive across the valley or leave it entirely to get their grocery shopping done.

It would have resulted in 54,000 people across Southern California, roughly 1,200 from the SCV alone, walking off the job.

The crux of the issue between labor and management was about health benefits and pension funding — a topic of much contention throughout many industries. Labor was saying that management wasn’t adequately funneling money into those funds, while management said it wasn’t true.

Whatever finer details were discussed behind closed doors, both parties emerged content with the deal that includes increased contributions to health care from both sides, along with a small employee wage increase.

It’s good news for all.

The union was able to continue working, knowing that employee benefits and pension funds are safe. The stores were able to stay open with the same quality of service, and avoid being forced to take on bad publicity by hiring outside workers to fill vacancies. And consumers all over Southern California were left totally unaffected because the last-minute talks proved successful.

Some industry watchers believe that both sides had no choice but to settle because the grocery world has changed greatly since the last strike in 2003. Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have lost a significant amount of market share to Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and others who have enhanced their offerings in the past few years.

But whatever the reason for the compromise, both sides seemed to have realized that they needed to meet each other somewhere in the middle for the best interest of both parties. It seems to be a good business decision all around.


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