July 5, 2005: For the first time in recent history, the grocery contracts in Southern California will be negotiated separately. If it’s done right, it will be an opportunity to address problems that have been ignored in past negotiations.
In June, Teamster leaders had a meeting on how the separate negotiations would proceed. They agreed that the first target would be Stater Brothers. Stater is not a national chain, so it would be harder for the company to take a strike.
Additionally, they were not hit by the battle with the UFCW last year, so they are in a better financial position to improve the contract. Finally, Stater’s is opening a new distribution facility this year and it doesn’t need a labor dispute to interfere.
Regional Organizing Strategy
The plan is to use the Stater’s settlement as a pattern for the others.
This was a good strategy, but then Local 630 Secretary-Treasurer Paul Kenny jumped the gun. In a surprise move, Kenny announced a tentative agreement with Unified Western Grocers.
Even though other locals involved with Unified were not aware of the deal, Kenny scheduled a ratification vote for July 19 at the work sites.
The contract does not expire until mid-September so there was no need for a rushed vote.
Members also wanted written copies of the proposed agreement before a vote was taken so they could thoroughly review the offer.
Then, suddenly the vote was called off. Whatever the reason, now there is the opportunity to use the strategy used in other parts of the country. The union should let the warehouse companies know that each settlement must be better than the previous one, and then stick to it. This has resulted in improved contracts in the industry. It’s time for Southern California to do the same.