The 10-day-old Raley's strike came to an end Tuesday just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. That is good news for Raley's, its workers and local consumers gearing up for the big T-day.
Union leaders with the United Food and Commercial Workers say they were able to preserve the health benefits they wanted for their workers; Raley's management says it was able to squeeze some cost savings out of the new contract. The exact details of the deal that ended the strike remain murky but may become clear in the days ahead.
Clearly the settlement will not end what is a tough economic environment for unionized grocery stores. Raley's is facing strong competition from nonunion Wal-Mart. The national grocery giant has gobbled up market share at a furious clip in recent years. As The Bee's Dale Kasler reported over the weekend, Wal-Mart's market share in Sacramento has jumped from 3 percent to 14 percent in just the past four years and most of that expansion came at Raley's expense. In the same four-year period, Raley's market share dropped from 27.6 percent to 22.7 percent. Other nonunion grocery stores are moving into the region as well.
The trend should be alarming not just for Raley's management but for its unionized workforce as well. The settlement that ended the strike is not likely to reduce the competitive squeeze that Raley's and other unionized grocers must confront to survive.
The union is not immune from the competitive pressures that threaten its employers. It won't be enough to hold on to benefits it has negotiated with unionized grocers such as Safeway and Raley's. To preserve well-paying jobs with benefits that can support a middle-class lifestyle, UCFW must turn its attention to the hard work of leveling the playing field economically for grocers in this region no easy task. Consumers must recognize that the low prices at some grocers come with a price low pay and few if any benefits for employees who work there.
Still, for the upcoming Thanksgiving season, the picket lines are gone at a major Sacramento area-based business, something for which both sides and the region should be thankful.