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California grocery workers sign new employee contract

Southern California grocery workers have voted to ratify a new employment contract, which had been negotiated over the last eight months. Included in the contract are 62,000 employees of Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons and related grocery businesses. The workers included in the contract are baggers, checkers and meat cutters as well as other grocery workers.

The workers were on the verge of a strike after the tense eight-month negotiations. Neither side wanted to strike because of the financial harm it could bring to individual workers, the grocery chains and the local economies. Unionized grocery workers went on a 4 1/2 month labor strike in 2003/2004, which resulted in grocery workers taking on significant debt and the grocery chains losing $2 billion.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the market share of the grocery stores fell for the first time during that strike when competitors swooped in and took some of the grocery business, and the market share of the big grocery chains has continued to decline.

At the time of the last strike, the grocery stores had about 60 percent of the market for groceries. Now, the chains have about 23 percent of that market. The market share is now shared more with farmers' markets, specialty stores like Trader Joe's and warehouse clubs like Costco. One of the biggest new competitors is Target, which has begun to carry fresh groceries.

The current economic pressures and realities caused the grocery chains and workers to be more invested in working hard to find a compromise. As both sides passed the strike deadline, the negotiations became more urgent and reportedly included a final 24-hour session at the bargaining table.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Grocery workers ratify contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons," P.J. Huffstutter, Sept. 24, 2011