LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of labor and community activists rallied here June 13 in front of the Vons supermarket on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue, to show solidarity with grocery workers in their fight for a fair contract.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), Local 770, which represents the workers, organized the action with help from leaders in the faith community.
The UFCW's labor contract expired in March. The workers - from the Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons supermarkets - and their union have tentatively settled on pension agreements. However, the most controversial negotiations have been on the issue of healthcare. The employers want the workers to pay a higher percentage for their healthcare benefits.
"There's a general consensus at the Vons in Moorpark that the workers will strike if need be," said Scott Patrick, a Moorpark resident who drove nearly 50 miles to be at the Los Angeles action in support of the workers. "They want their fair contract and, you know, it's the last option but they will strike to get what they need," he said.
The action brought out community activists, several young people, local organizations and other unions in support. They include: International Association of Machinists (IAM), retired and active Teamsters; other UFCW and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals; members of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center; the Jewish Labor Committee; the Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE); and other clergy members such as priests and rabbis.
Demonstrators held up signs that read, "Respect Grocery Workers" and "Bye Bye Walker, We Are Awakened," a reference to the union-busting Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor.
The march began on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue and moved up Hillhurst ending in front of the Albertsons supermarket in the nearby neighborhood of Los Feliz with a rally.
Activists chanted: "Who's got the power? We got the power! What kind of power? Union power!"
Dozens of cars and trucks driving by honked their horns in support at the site of the demonstration, including several police cars and firefighter trucks.
According to its website the UFCW is one the nation's youngest unions in the U.S. with the greatest percentage of members under 35, younger than any other.
Chelsea Davenport, a worker in her 50s said she has been working for Albertsons, one of the supermarkets for 35 years. She spoke at the rally.
"They want to replace us with robots. They want to have self-checkouts. They want to pay people less," she said. "You know what, anybody that walks in that door behind me when I retire and wants to take my job should have every single, solitary advantage that I have while I was in there working. I know today that I'm not alone ... And it just warms the bottom of my heart to see all of ya'll out here and everybody chanting and walking and doing what we need to do to get a fair contract."
Rabbis, other clergymen and union supporters presented Albertsons management with a letter urging them and the other supermarkets to sign a fair contract with the workers. Community leaders, bishops and community and faith leaders also endorsed the letter.
"We're here till the end," said a UCLA campus rabbi.
The next action is scheduled for June 28 at Albertsons corporate headquarters.
Photo: Hundreds marched in support of grocery workers to demand a fair labor contract with their supermarket employers. (Luis Rivas/PW).
Correction, June 18, 2011: An earlier posting misidentified the Jewish Labor Committee as a local religious grouping. The Jewish Labor Committee is an independent secular organization active across the country.