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‘Best deal ever’: New contract for Food 4 Less workers includes raises, bonus

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has approved a new contract that includes raises and bonuses for 7,000 grocery workers at Food 4 Less and FoodsCo supermarkets in California.

A worker-led bargaining committee from UFCW locals across California ratified the agreement last week after six months of negotiations with The Kroger Co., parent company of the two supermarket chains. It covers employees at nearly 100 grocery stores throughout the state.

That came six months after Kroger decried hero pay raises and closed several area stores.

In announcing the contract on Tuesday, UFCW touted the labor agreement as “the best deal ever for Food 4 Less grocery workers across the state.”

The contract includes pay increases of up to $1.65 an hour over the three-year contract term, plus an agreement to match any larger increases achieved by Ralphs workers in their upcoming contract renewal. Kroger also owns Ralphs.

Most workers will also get bonuses of $150 to $200, and there will be an increase in guaranteed hours for part-time employees, extra vacation time for senior workers and access to a company scholarship fund.

The contract also provides for a health and safety committee at every Food 4 Less location to address COVID-19 risks that have impacted both workers and shoppers.

A broad footprint

Food 4 Less grocery stores can be found across Southern California in Anaheim, Canoga Park, Inglewood, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pico Rivera and Santa Clarita.

FoodsCo. markets are in Bakersfield, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno and Oakland, among other cities.

The previous Food 4 Less contract expired in June 2020 but was extended to March 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new contract will expire June 8, 2024.

Elena Gonzalez, who works as a cashier at a Food 4 Less in Bell Gardens, said the benefits in the new labor agreement are important to her and her family.

“We pushed to raise the bar and won better pay and hours, and we will continue to fight for what we deserve,” Gonzelez said in a statement.

Representatives with Kroger were not available for comment Tuesday.

Store closures

The company came under fire earlier this year when it shuttered five underperforming Ralphs and Food 4 Less supermarkets in Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Kroger said the closures were accelerated by “hazard pay” hikes mandated by the two cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In L.A., the mandated wage increase was $5 an hour, while Long Beach implemented a $4 hourly pay bump.

In a statement released shortly after the L.A. supermarket closures were announced, Kroger said its stores operate on razor-thin profit margins, adding that hazard pay made it “financially unsustainable” to keep the three L.A. locations open.

Kroger held a nationwide job fair last month with in-store and virtual interviews as the company looks to hire another 10,000 workers to support its retail, e-commerce, pharmacy, manufacturing, and logistics operations.

Kroger owns some 16 brands including Dillons, Fred Meyer, Pay-Less Super Markets, Smith’s Food and Drug, and Harris Teeter, among others.

UFCW is the largest California labor union for frontline grocery workers, representing 141,000 workers statewide.

Source: Orange County Register

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