Local officials, organizers, and workers gathered outside of Ralphs on Carrillo Street on Tuesday afternoon with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 770 union to hold a demonstration and ask for a fair contract. Workers’ contracts at Ralphs, Albertsons, and Vons expired March 3, 2019, and employees have been working without one since. The two sides have been working to negotiate a new contract but have not reached an agreement.
Just last week, 96 percent of union members voted to authorize a strike if need be to achieve the desired outcomes for their contract. However, most union members hope contract disputes can be resolved and a strike avoided. Several signs at yesterday’s demonstration read, “I don’t want to strike, but I will.”
Brenda Sanchez, who’s worked at Ralphs for 32 years, since she was 15 years old, said she remembers a time when there were fair wages for everyone in the store. Now, she says, the struggle of making ends meet goes beyond Ralphs’ employees and that she sees it with her customers, too. “I see the struggle in my customers putting things away when they don’t have enough [money to pay for them],” she said. “It’s time to tell corporations enough is enough,” she said.
Santa Barbara County supervisors Joan Hartmann, Gregg Hart, and Das Williams showed up and marched and chanted with the union to show solidarity. Santa Barbara City Councilmember Meagan Harmon and Goleta City Councilmember James Kyriaco were also there.
Executive Director of CAUSE Maricela Morales was also present at the demonstration. “[Ralphs] is profiting not just on the backs of workers, but on the whole community,” said Morales. “This cannot stand.”
Local officials delivered a signed letter to store management and corporate owners asking for fair negotiations. “We represent the community and the customers that patronize your stores and make your profits possible,” reads the letter. “In a time when your grocery companies pay their CEOs more than $10 million a year … it is not only unfair but immoral to pay your employees wages that drive them into poverty.”
So far, workers have been offered less than a 1 percent raise, said Kathy Finn, UFCW secretary treasurer, while top executives for the three corporations received 19-34 percent raises. Finn called the offer disrespectful and said workers haven’t been offered a fair contract. “This is about more than just grocery workers,” said Finn. “It’s about all workers.”
UFCW organizers and union members have been making the rounds along the Central Coast and South Coast, holding demonstrations to gain leverage during negotiations, which are scheduled to begin again July 10. The Santa Barbara Ralphs was their sixth stop of the day.
In response to the demonstration, Ralphs Corporate office said, “We are committed to continuing to invest in our associates — providing secure, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits. We also need to keep our company strong. With a balanced approach this agreement can be a win for everyone — our associates, our communities and our company.”