Armed with cow bells, a loud speaker and a palpable sense of anger, more than 350 union members and their supporters made noise Wednesday—a lot of noise.
But It wasn’t only the decibel level that reached its pique outside of Ralphs at the Long Beach Marina. It was clear from the beginning of the three-hour rally that the company’s negotiating strategy that has dragged on for more than half a year had finally brought the patience of most employees to a boiling point as well.
“I’m tired of this ,” exclaimed one worker who preferred not to give her name. “Who do they think they are that they can just keep us in limbo for as long as they want.”
Her sentiments were echoed by the boisterous crowd comprised of not just Ralphs employees, but workers from Albertsons, Vons and Gelsons. At least two to three dozen
were from other unions entirely, anxious to show solidarity with their UFCW brethren.
The raucous event maintained a high energy level from beginning to end and capped a blistering nine-day blitz of every Ralphs store in Southern California. The whirlwind was part of a concerted effort by all six UFCW Locals to ratchet up the pressure on Ralphs, which they accuse of maintaining an inflexible bargaining position in ongoing contract talks.
Union leaders were hopeful that the actions will push the grocery chains into making concessions on wages and healthcare. But the coordinated actions also served to buoy the spirits of members and union leaders alike by jolting members into action in numbers never seen before.
In the past week more than 540 volunteers joined informational picket lines designed to engage Ralphs customers and enlist their support in the fight.
“It was more successful than we even predicted it would be,” said President Greg Conger, who has said from the beginning that member involvement would be key to securing improvements in a collective bargaining agreement. “If this isn’t a wakeup call for Ralphs executives then they are in a coma,” he said.
Negotiators from both sides are set to resume talks after Labor Day. Union officials say thatthe time where the companies will have to
make substantial improvements to their offers so far if they hope to avoid the second walkout in 13 years.