Protestors make pledge for ‘fair’ contracts
As contract negotiations continue between a labor union group and several local grocery giants, protestors took to Ralphs near downtown Santa Barbara Tuesday demanding better-than-before contract offers.
The rally was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 — a labor union who represents workers across several industries such as cosmetology, health care, retail health, cannabis, packing and grocery. UFCW Local 770 and its representatives are in the middle of contract negotiations with grocery outlets including Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons. The negotiation began exactly four months ago when the previous contract expired.
More than 50 demonstrators stood near the fountain outside the grocery store, some of whom came from as far as Camarillo and Los Angeles.
“We’re all in support of getting a fair contract for grocery workers,” said UFCW Local 770’s secretary treasurer Kathy Finn, who also added that the union has had 17 negotation sessions with the companies.
UFCW Local 770 claims that with the 17 bargaining sessions, the grocery corporations have offered less than 1 percent wage increase while saying there will be decrease in cashier wages by almost a quarter. Albertsons, which owns Vons, did not respond to the News-Press’s attempt to request comment. Meanwhile, Tom Ross — the store manager of the Carillo Street’s Ralphs whom the News-Press approached for an interview — said, “We can’t answer. Unfortunately, you got to go to corporate.”
By “corporate,” Mr. Ross is referring to Cincinnati-based retail company Kroger, Ralphs’ parent company for the past two decades. According to UFCW Local 770 research, Ralphs earned nearly $2 billion in profits last year and gave executives raises of 19 to 34 percent. When the News-Press reached out to UFCW Local 770 for elaboration on the research, the research director was unavailable for comment.
Kroger’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 2018 financial report does indicate that its operating profit was $2.6 billion, although Ralphs’ share of this profit is unclear.
When asked about the reliability of UFCW Local 770’s research team, Ms. Finn described it as “very reliable” to the News-Press. Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Meagan Froemming Harmon seems to also trust the research’s findings. At the rally, she spoke with passion and fervor to those present, using the UFCW Local 770-provided numbers.
“We are out here standing up against corporate profit. We are standing up against companies that refuse to take responsibility for the communities from which they profit,” said Ms. Harmon. “We heard those statistics: 34 percent raises in the C-suite while the backbone of this company, the heart of our community, are being told that they deserve just a little bit more than nothing.”
According to UFCW Local 770 President John Grant, thousands of union members voted “to make their voices heard and demand corporate negotiators put forward a fair contract.” The labor union says that with more than 95 percent of these voters rejecting the grocery companies’ current offer, UFCW Local 770 has the authorization to call a strike if the companies don’t improve the proposed contract. The strike is predicted to affect over 500 stores and about 600,000 workers across Southern and Central California.
After speaking to the protestors, Ms. Finn, Ms. Harmon and a handful of others entered the Ralphs they have been rallying in front of to hand over a community letter of support by Santa Barbara. Upon entering, however, Ms. Finn and Ms. Harmon seem to have lost the passion with which they were speaking outside the air-conditioned grocery store.
A Ralphs employee told the small group they “don’t want to interrupt our customers shopping,” Ms. Finn replied, “We agree, we’re trying not to get into anybody’s way.”
When Mr. Ross was shown the letter and asked by Ms. Harmon to deliver it to necessary parties, his sweet but curt reply was, “We’ll pass it on.”
And just like that, the troop exited Ralphs and rejoined the energetic protestors, who chanted “We’ll be back.” According to UFCW Local 770’s political and civil rights director Rachel Torres, a similar rally will occur in Los Angeles on July 9.