Southern California members of the striking United Food and Commercial Workers union brought their fight to Arizona on Thursday, urging Valley consumers to boycott Albertson’s stores until the California labor dispute is settled.
Nineteen UFCW members from California began informational picking at an Albertsons grocery store in Phoenix and said they will expand their picketing to other Albertson’s stores in the West Valley today.
The union intends eventually to set up pickets throughout Arizona although the union is not on strike here, said Mike Vespoli, director of community affairs for UFCW Local 99 in Phoenix.
"This is an issue that affects everyone," he said.
About 70,000 union employees of Safeway, Vons, Ralphs and Albertson’s have been on strike or locked out in Southern California for four months in a dispute that centers on health care costs.
The union wants free health care premiums for full-time and half-time workers, as they had in their previous contract.
The supermarkets want full-time employees to pay a portion of their health care premiums and to increase the number of hours an employee must work to qualify for medical coverage.
In Arizona, UFCW workers at Safeway and Fry’s, which like Ralphs is owned by Kroger Co., are working under an extension of their existing contract while a new pact is being negotiated.
Therefore, the union doesn’t plan to picket Arizona Safeway and Fry’s stores.
Albertson’s employees in Arizona are nonunion.
At a news conference Thursday, UFCW workers from California urged Arizonans to support their cause by not buying at Albertson’s.
"This is for everybody, not just us," said Carol Biocca, an employee at a Ralphs store in Fontana, Calif., where she said she was locked out by her employer. "It’s a domino effect, and it’s going to hit everywhere. "
Mike McGrath, executive director of the Arizona AFLCIO, said the Arizona labor organization will coordinate with the UFCW in California and nationally "to escalate this fight so that no working families anywhere will have to face the choice of health care for their families or food on their tables."
Albertson’s Arizona spokeswoman Karen Ramos said the Valley stores "are not part of the current situation in Southern California nor are we part of the negotiations in Arizona."
She added that Arizona employees receive wage and benefit packages that are competitive with other retailers.
In a statement released in October, California officials of Albertson’s, Vons and Ralphs said competition from nonunion discount stores is forcing to big chains to reign in their health care costs, which rose more than 50 percent in four years.