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Food 4 Less workers vote ‘overwhelmingly’ to authorize strike

Union representatives said they hope the threat of a strike will be enough to secure a fair contract but added that workers are ready to act.

Food 4 Less workers vote ‘overwhelmingly’ to authorize strike
Workers and union representatives gather at the Food 4 Less store at 6700 Cherry Ave. in Long Beach. Courtesy of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Unions representing thousands of Food 4 Less workers announced Friday night that members voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike amid contentious contract negotiations with the Kroger subsidiary.

United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 8GS, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442 represent more than 6,000 Food 4 Less workers whose previous contract expired on June 8. Local 324 represents 186 workers at three Long Beach-area stores, including 6700 Cherry Ave., 3210 E. Anaheim St., and 1600 E. Willow in Signal Hill.

“Food 4 Less executives have decided to resort to unlawful tactics instead of following federal labor law and treating the bargaining process with the respect and seriousness that it deserves,” the bargaining committee said in a statement following the final day of voting. “Today’s overwhelming strike authorization vote sends a clear message to the company: we will not be divided.”

Salvador Ramirez, a spokesperson for Kroger’s Food 4 Less division, said the company is “disappointed” in the outcome.”

“From the start, our focus has been putting more money in our associates’ paychecks. We have presented a historic offer that includes over $70 million in wage investments, industry-leading healthcare, and retirement benefits,” Ramirez said in an email Saturday morning. “Our associates are the heartbeat of our company, and we will continue to do everything we can to balance investments in wages and overall associate well-being while keeping food affordable for our customers.”

Contract negotiations began on April 10, according to union spokesperson Jenna Thompson. Stores continue operating under the previous contract, she added.

Brandon Richardson was laid off by the Long Beach Post on March 22. Thank him for continuing to cover Long Beach without pay.

On May 22, the union filed charges of unfair labor practices against the company with the National Labor relations Board, including discrimination, unlawful surveillance of workers, prohibiting union activity participation, unilateral contract changes and stifling communications between workers and their union representatives.

Representatives are bargaining for wages that are on par with other grocery stores across the state as well as more guaranteed hours and protection from vendors taking work from store workers, according to Thompson.

Last year, Kroger stores generated $3.1 billion in operating profits, according to its annual financial report. The union argues that it is the workers in stores each day, keeping customers happy, who should be rewarded out of those profits rather than shareholders.

“A strike is always our last resort, and we’re still hoping the company will come to the bargaining table … ready to bargain a fair contract,” Thompson said, “but workers are ready and willing to do what it takes to get the contract they deserve.”

The groups are slated to return to the bargaining table Monday.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from Food 4 Less.

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