SoCal Lockout and Strike, Part Two?
Oh no, its déjà vu all over again.
Back in late 2003 and 2004, a lockout and strike involving 60,000 grocery workers in Southern California and the Safeway, Ralphs and Albertsons chains resulted in losses and resentment still felt today.
By the time a new labor deal was agreed to in 2004, the chains lost an estimated $1.5 billion in sales and Southern California consumers found other stores where they could buy their groceries.
The grocery workers involved in the dispute had little to show for their support of the job action. In the end, workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) wound up with a two-tier system that pays new hires less and provides them with less generous benefits than workers employed prior to the lockout and strike.
With all this as a backdrop, grocery chains in Southern California and their employees are moving closer to another negotiation, as the current deal expires in March.
While both parties are apparently seeking to avoid the harsh rhetoric of the past, there is no denying that tensions exist.
Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324, told the Long Beach Press Telegram, “It is the intention of union members to take back much of what was taken from us. I know we can’t get it all back. We don’t expect to get it all back. But we are going to take back as much of what was taken as we can.”
Jim Hertel of Willard Bishop Consulting said there are lessons for the chains from the previous lockout and strike. The chains lost business because the length of the dispute put consumers in the position of having to look for other grocery options, he said.
“If something happens that changes their patterns, now you’ve given the shopper the opportunity to try something that they may not have tried before,” Mr. Hertel said.
One thing appears clear – consumers are in no mood for another lengthy dispute between the chains and employees.
Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., offered this insight: “It’s interesting when you go out and say, ‘Oh, by the way, in March there will be grocery store contract negotiations.’ You get a general chorus of groans.”
Discussion Questions: What were the lessons learned by the chains and UFCW from the 2003/2004 lockout and strike in California? How will that experience
color the next round of negotiations between the parties?