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Union grocery workers authorize strike after negotiations stalemate 

When Grover Beach Vons employee Manny Estrada isn't working as a shop steward or pharmacy clerk, he's sitting on his union's bargaining committee.

"I keep the communication going from the union to the employees," Estrada said.

click to enlarge SPEAKING OUT Union grocery workers rallied outside Vons in Grover Beach on March 1, demanding higher wages. Now, union representatives are back at the negotiation table with their employer. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SPEAKING OUT Union grocery workers rallied outside Vons in Grover Beach on March 1, demanding higher wages. Now, union representatives are back at the negotiation table with their employer.

When New Times spoke to Estrada on March 29, he had just finished driving down to Costa Mesa, where he'll sit in on negotiations between his union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and employers, including Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions.

"The union contract with Vons expires every three years. Ours expired March 6. Before it expired, we had been in negotiations here in Costa Mesa and Long Beach for a total of 12 days over six weeks," Estrada said. "And after 12 days, we parted ways on the 6th when the contract expired, and we were at a standstill. We didn't come to an agreement."

Among the asks the union is making, Estrada said the most fundamental is a pay increase. Workers want a $5 raise, spread out over three years.

After reaching the negotiation stalemate and watching their contract expire, union members voted to authorize a strike on March 27, though no dates have been set yet for one. The union also filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board "following documented actions that undermine workers' rights and the bargaining process," a UFCW statement said.

"We found out that some of the managers and some of the corporate people for some of the stores, who are not with the union, were filming on their phones workers at these rallies," Estrada said, referring to rallies that occurred at stores across Southern California. Grover Beach Vons workers rallied on March 1.

"That is a form of unfair labor practice," Estrada said. "It's intimidation; it's a tactic used to try to make someone feel like they shouldn't be doing what they're doing. ... Last week, we had our strike vote, and it was an overwhelming yes to strike. And as of a couple days ago, I was asked to come back to the table."

Negotiations began again on March 30, and will go for another six days, Estrada said.

"We're going to see what we can do, see if we can come to a conclusion and hopefully don't have to strike," Estrada said. "But ultimately this is on the employer. None of us wanted to strike in the beginning of negotiations. But when they start pulling dirty tricks, we're going to fight back with what's legally right and what we can legally do."

Management staff at Vons in Grover Beach would not provide comment to New Times, but a company statement said, "We remain committed to working collaboratively to reach an agreement that is fair to our hard-working employees and allows Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market." Δ

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