Grocery workers employed by Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs in Southern California ratified a contract that took nearly eight months to negotiate and had many Californians preparing for what appeared to be an imminent strike, the union representing grocery workers said Saturday.
The new contract prevents a strike similar to the 141-day lockout from 2003-2004, where grocery chains lost an estimated $1.5 billion.
Word of the vote came at 8:16 p.m. in an email from Bleiweiss Communications on behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
"As recommended by the union leadership, the members voted to approve an agreement that was reached on Sept. 19 with negotiators from Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons and UFCW Locals 8, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442," Bleiweiss said.
The representative called this a pooled vote of all local unions Friday and Saturday in Southern California.
"In keeping with the union's longstanding policy, the actual numbers are not being released," Bleiweiss said.
Nevertheless, City News Service reported that under the new health care plan, workers will pay $7 per week for individual health insurance and $15 per week for family coverage. Other details were not made public.
"There was a sense of relief when people had a opportunity to really look over the new contract and see what was in it," said food clerk Mario Frias, a 22-year Ralphs employee, quoted by Bleiweiss.
"This deal protects our members' health care and pension, and provides modest increases in wages," said UFCW Local 770 President Rick Icaza, who called the contract a "win for grocery workers, our communities, and our local economy."
In a statement, union leaders said health care benefits were a "top priority throughout the negotiating process."
The new contract affects about 62,000 workers in a region that spans between Kern, Inyo and Mono counties in the north, the Mexican border in the south and the Arizona border in the east. Its term will extend from March 7 of this year to March 2, 2014, the union said.
"We owe our success to our members, who stood united and strong, and to all of our loyal customers who pledged their support for the workers," union leaders said.
On Friday, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the new contract would end tiered health benefits, where new workers paid more.
According to City News Service, the contract also covers Stater Bros. Markets and Food 4 Less employees. The supermarkets were apparently negotiating separate deals with the union. Both Food 4 Less and Ralphs are owned by Kroger, which also owns Fry's grocery stores.
There is one location in Redondo Beach; Albertsons and Vons each have three locations in the city.
City News Service contributed to this report.