MELROSE PARK - Warehouse workers and delivery drivers for Jewel voted nearly unanimously Friday to authorize a strike if the grocery chain "does not agree to a fair contract."
The workers voted 97.75% in favor of a strike, with nearly 70% of employees at the Melrose Park distribution center participating, according to a Teamsters union statement.
The union said Jewel has forced most workers to work mandatory six-day weeks throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which has created "dangerously crowded conditions in its warehouse." They also said Jewel discontinued pandemic hazard pay in July.
The need for overtime stems from the company’s "inability to attract and retain new hires by offering a low starting wage with little room for growth," the union said, adding Jewel’s latest contract proposal would reduce worker’s 401k plans.
The union also said the increased workload has made it difficult for employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination, with some workers saying they’ve been threatened with discipline if they opt for a vaccine appointment instead of overtime.
"Jewel is negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement that rewards our hard working employees, is fair and allows the company to continue to grow," a spokesperson for the grocery chain said in a statement.
Albertsons, Jewel’s parent company, is the nation’s second-largest supermarket operator and reported more than $50 billion in revenue in 2020, according to the union.
"Striking is a last resort, but it’s incredibly insulting that while Jewel and Albertsons thrive, its workers are being asked to pay more out of pocket for healthcare after they’ve risked their lives to make sure shelves stay well-stocked throughout the pandemic," said Mike Cales, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 710, the workers’ union.