San Diego food and commercial union hopes to avoid strike

SAN DIEGO -- Heated contract negotiations have grocery store workers throughout Southern and Central California ready to strike at any moment, but leadership at the San Diego chapter of the union hope it won't come to that.

"We are here to negotiate a contract. Nobody wants a labor dispute. Our members are fed up and they want to be treated fairly," said Todd Walters, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135.

There are about 7,500 employees at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores throughout San Diego and about 97 percent of those workers agreed with a potential strike. Stores from Bakersfield down to the U.S.-Mexico border are affected by the contract negotiations, with the biggest issue surrounding wages.

"A lot of our workers, they’re making less than $16 an hour. Minimum wage is catching up and we just want a livable wage that we can survive in San Diego," said Walters.

Since March 17, unsuccessful negotiating sessions led union members to vote to authorize a strike, something we haven’t seen in Southern California in well over a decade.

"The grocery chains are well aware of the increased competition in today’s day and age that was not there 16 years ago or at least not to the extent it is today. So they are basically trying to say, look, we want to make sure we provide for employee paychecks but we also have to make a profit," said Wendy Patrick, a business ethics lecturer at San Diego State University.

The union and grocery store officials have the next negotiation session scheduled for July 10. Until then, union leadership here in San Diego is remaining hopeful we won’t see a strike just yet.

"If we truly get some good faith bargaining, we might be able to get a deal," said Walters.

Representatives for Vons and Albertsons sent FOX 5 the following statement:

"Our goal with every negotiation is to provide our employees with a competitive total compensation package of wages, health, welfare, and pension benefits.  We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, good for our customers and allows Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market. The outcome of the strike authorization vote does not change anything related to this process. We remain committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to all parties, including our employees, and will continue to work to achieve that."

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