In this strike, nobody wins

August 25, 2011

SoCal grocers and workers prepare for mediation talks on Monday after union members vote to reject contract with costlier healthcare.

There’s a bad movie about to rerun in Southern California – and the ending could be worse this time.

We’re talking about the possible strike by 62,000 food store workers. A walkout is currently on hold until their seven unions sit down with retailers and a federal mediator on Monday. More than 90% of workers authorized a strike in a secret ballot; they rejected the latest contract because it proposes to reduce health benefits through higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told the San Diego Business Journal.

The Lempert Report won’t delve into the details to be negotiated between workers and Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons. And we do understand a strike threat is an attention-getting tactic; it doesn’t mean a strike will happen.  

Yet if a strike is called, it would be utterly stupid. Times have changed greatly since the 2003-2004 strike that lasted almost five months and cost retailers a reported $1 billion to $2 billion in sales that shifted to other food sellers. But many came back.

Consumers today are much less forgiving. They already shop alternate channels heavily to save money, and faced with a strike they’ll do it more. Why not? They have many more options ranging in size and appeals from Tesco Fresh & Easy to Target, along with dollar stores, drug stores and wholesale clubs with expanded food presence. Strong supermarket independents are in the mix too.  

Shoppers today may well stick with their new store choices – especially since they struggle mightily themselves in this economy and would feel dismissive of workers who have steady jobs yet walk out on them. They might also resent the chains if they allow this to happen.  

Nobody will win in a strike. It's time for serious talks, or we'll be witness to more self-inflicted harm within the supermarket industry.