Teamsters, Butchers Vote on Ending 7(-Week Grocery Dispute
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Thousands of meat cutters and Teamsters who have been on strike or locked out of most major Southern California supermarkets for 7 weeks voted Thursday on a three-year contract, and union officials predicted approval.
The work stoppage, the longest ever against the markets, was marked by frequent violence and apparent sabotage, including stink bombs in stores, attacks on non-union truckers and an anonymous threat to inject produce at some stores with non-lethal doses of a poisonous herbicide.
Union leaders were split over whether enough had been gained by the work stoppage, but the general mood was that the unions had wrenched every possible concession from the markets, officials said.
Members of one of six meat cutter locals voted against the pact, which calls for some concessions that union officials had pledged to fight. But the union’s chief negotiator, Gerald McTeague, predicted the agreement would be ratified by the time the rest of the votes were tallied.
″We came out of it with our skin whole,″ McTeague said. ″We were able to maintain what we thought we needed - job security for current employees. Both sides had to give up some of what they wanted.″
Leaders of only two of the meat cutter locals endorsed the settlement. The other four presented the package to members with no recommendation because of the concessions, including a two-tier pay scale that would put some new workers in a lower-paid classification.
Teamsters officials had urged approval of their pact, which requires some workers to be hired at a lower pay rate but allows them to make their way up to the same top scale.
The two-tier wage scale was hard for some union leaders to accept. They had repeatedly vowed throughout the dispute not to accept it.
″There’s some disappointment, but there is a general feeling that we couldn’t have gotten any more even by staying out another two weeks,″ said a union source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The companies argued that they needed the concession to remain competitive with discount outlets and non-union stores, but the unions insisted the demands were unacceptable assaults on job security.
The agreements call for modest combinations of bonuses and raises over the life of the contract.
Under their expired contracts, Teamsters earned top pay of about $14 an hour, while meat cutters earned $13.48.
The two unions went on strike simultaneously Nov. 5 against 164 Vons stores. They were locked out by six other chains - Albertsons, Alpha Beta, Hughes, Lucky, Ralphs and Safeway.
The seven companies have about 900 stores from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and the Pacific Ocean to the Arizona and Nevada borders.
Another four chains with about 200 markets - Boys, Foods Co., Pioneer and Stater Bros. - were exempted from the work stoppage early on by agreeing to abide by whatever terms emerged from the bargaining table.
The 11 chains employ about 12,000 Teamster drivers, warehousemen and office workers and about 10,000 meat cutters and wrappers.
The unions pledged that neither would settle without the other.
The meat cutters took a back seat during most of negotiations while the markets and Teamsters hammered at each other since that contract was widely believed to be the most difficult.
The Teamsters reached a tentative agreement last weekend. A similar pact was reached with the meat cutters early Monday after an an all-night bargaining session.
The last strike against the markets was a five-hour walkout by meat cutters in 1982. In 1978, clerks struck for six days, and in 1973, butchers were off the job for five weeks.