Tens of thousands of Southern California grocery workers, including 800 in Long Beach, voted this week to ratify a new contract after contentious negotiations between union leaders and representatives for Albertsons, Pavilions, Ralphs and Vons stores.

A tentative agreement was announced April 5 after months of negotiations, including a marathon 30-hour bargaining session, but required member approval.

“[Union] members came together and worked tirelessly for this contract,” Christine Martinez, a pharmacy technician at Ralphs in Placentia, said in a statement. “We were loud and clear that we deserved a contract that reflects our hard work.”

Negotiations heated up the week before the previous contract expired on March 6. Three weeks later, with no agreement reached, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union locals 8GS, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442 voted to authorize a strike, which would never come to pass.

Union officials were seeking a $5-per-hour raise phased in over three years along with improved safety standards and scheduling. The stores were offering $1.80 raises, also phased in over three years.

The ratified contract awarded workers a $4.25-per-hour increase over three years, starting with a $2-per-hour raise retroactive to March 7, according to documents obtained by the Post. The agreement also guarantees all fully available part-time employees a minimum of 28 hours per week as well as increased benefits and updated safety and security commitments.

“This historic contract sets the standard for what’s possible for workers—not only in the grocery industry, but industries throughout the country,” Pio Figueroa, a food clerk at Ralphs in Laguna Beach said in a statement. “This is a huge victory for workers, and demonstrates how essential we are to our communities.”

The contract applies to over 47,000 grocery workers at about 540 stores, including 10 in Long Beach represented by UFCW Local 324.

In a statement, Ralphs Vice President of Operations Robert Branton said the company is “pleased” that an agreement has been reached.

“The agreement comes after thoughtful and productive work by both the company and union bargaining committees,” Branton said. “This contract is an affirmation of our commitment to providing a competitive total benefits package for our associates and further establishes Ralphs as a great place to work.”

Last night’s announcement came less than a week after the members of the same union voted to ratify a similar contract with Stater Bros., which impacts 13,000 grocery workers at 170 locations, including about 100 at one store in Long Beach.

“By ratifying this contract, Stater Bros. workers have secured life-changing raises, better healthcare, and protected pensions over the next three years,” the locals said in an April 9 joint statement. “After more than two years of risking their lives to serve California’s communities as essential workers, the members of UFCW stood together for their families and each other, and secured one of the most historic contracts in California labor history.”

Grocery union avoids strike with tentative contract agreement

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.