Food 4 Less/Foods Co has more than 90 Southern California stores employing almost 6,500 UFCW union members. After the workers’ union contract expired on June 8, 2014, negotiations for a new agreement did not go well. The company proposed to cut hours, transfer more highly paid work to lower paid employees, and pay a smaller share into workers’ health and welfare fund. It also rejected UFCW’s previous agreement to provide new employees wage rates above the minimum wage, instead insisting on freezing employees at the minimum wage for several years.
UFCW had recently settled contracts with all the major grocery operators in Southern California. Although Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons, Stater Brothers, Gelsons, Super A and others had all signed on to a fair deal that provides workers a decent standard of living, Food 4 Less refused to do the same.
Food 4 Less is owned by the Kroger Company – one of the largest and most profitable grocery companies in the US. In July, Kroger announced that it made over $500 million in profits in just the first quarter of 2014. Despite these tremendous earnings, and despite agreeing to a fair settlement for its Ralphs employees, Food 4 Less workers (who are mostly Latino, serve customers in the Latino community, and earn less than their counterparts at Ralphs, also owned by Kroger) were not being given a fair shake. Kroger refused to offer a fair deal to their Food 4 Less employees, instead insisting on contributing less to the employees’ health care, providing fewer hours of work, and generally making it more difficult for these workers to make ends meet.
On July 22, 2014, The Southern California Labor Movement pledged to support Food 4 Less workers in case they had to go on strike by unanimously approving their strike sanction request at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Several workers testified at the strike sanction meeting, including Jose Garcia who testified about the difficulties of trying to live in Los Angeles on $190 per week, and Keyana Horn, who said that it took her 10 years of hard word to get to a decent pay rate and that she often has to help her co-workers who cannot make ends meet because they do not get enough hours each week and make very low wages.
When the Union met with Food 4 Less/FoodsCo on Wednesday, August 13th, the company still had not changed its position. Food 4 Less was still insisting on eliminating the weekly guarantee of hours in some stores, moving work from higher paid to lower paid workers, reducing the number of full-time jobs, paying less into the workers’ health care fund, and eliminating the ability of new workers to progress above the minimum wage.
Workers began to ask consumers to boycott Food 4 Less/FoodsCo. The entire Southern California labor movement pledged support. Preparations continued for further actions.
Finally, on August 26th, the strength, courage and hard work of workers and the community enabled UFCW to reach a tentative agreement with Food 4 Less/FoodsCo.
“Thanks to the support of consumers and our members’ resolve, I am pleased to say we have reached a tentative contract deal that protects employees’ wages, hours, and health care,” said Rick Icaza, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. “We would not have been able to accomplish this without the backing of the public, and for all our members I would like to offer our sincerest thanks. Our victory will help protect wages and benefits in this industry, for union and non-union workers alike. We are proud to stand with our customers and friends, who supported us in our time of need.”