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Jewish Journal

Rabbis support grocery workers in contract fight

by Ryan Torok

June 21, 2011 | 5:07 pm

Rabbi Jonathan Klein stood at the entrance to Albertson’s supermarket in Los Feliz and handed a supermarket manager a blown-up letter expressing his support for workers in their fractious contract negotiations with the major chains.

The dispute pits workers against management, primarily over health benefits, at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons, which are run by the corporations Supervalu, Kroger and Safeway, respectively. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) alleges that “increases in premiums, deductibles, and out of-pocket maximums … could cost employees up to $10,000,” according to a June 7 UFCW contract update.

“We ask that you reach a just and fair agreement with the union at the earliest possible time,” said the letter presented by Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA).

UCFW represents approximately 62,000 grocery workers, all under the same contract, employed in Southern California and “all the way up to Hearst Castle essentially, and over to the Nevada-Arizona border,” said John M. Grant, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 770, one of seven UFCW divisions negotiating on behalf of grocery store employees in the contract dispute. The three grocery chains have aligned themselves to negotiate the contract, Grant said.

Klein called the possibility of the grocery workers going on strike “very likely.”

The presentation of the letter culminated in a rally on June 14 that drew approximately 300 grocery workers and their supporters. Carrying anti-corporate signs and singing chants that called for justice, the group marched north from the Vons at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Virgil Avenue to an Albertsons on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz.

The Los Angeles Police Department was on the scene at the demonstration, which remained peaceful.

Since contracts expired last March, the nonmanagerial workers have been working under a contract extension agreement. 

Klein’s organization, CLUE-LA, which is rooted in interfaith-based social justice, is not participating in the negotiations but is advocating for grocery workers on this issue.

“It’s so clearly a Jewish issue,” Klein said, citing the teaching, “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

Fred Muir, a spokesperson for Albertsons said, “The only place where we can reach an agreement is at the bargaining table, and we believe our focus should be there, reaching a fair and reasonable contract.” 

Rabbi Alan Henkin of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Yoel Kahn, president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, were among the nearly two dozen Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy members who signed the letter that Klein presented.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, Progressive Jewish Alliance, which recently merged with Jewish Funds for Justice, and Jewish Labor Committee were among the Jewish representation for the workers at the rally.

“As someone who shops at these three stores throughout L.A., and as a Jew who feels responsible for the treatment of workers at food establishments that I patronize,” Yanklowitz said, “it was a clear imperative to attend this rally today.”

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