Ricardo “Rick” Icaza, a formidable figure in Southern California’s labor history and a relentless advocate for grocery union workers, has passed away at the age of 89. Known for his tenacious negotiation skills, Icaza has left an indelible mark on the region’s supermarket chains throughout his 64-year-long career with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. From bagging groceries in his high school years to becoming the union’s top leader, Icaza’s journey is a testament to his dedication and unwavering commitment to improving the lives of union members in one of America’s most competitive grocery markets.
Born to Mexican immigrants during the Great Depression, Icaza’s rise to prominence is a story of resilience and ambition. His most notable stint was the 2003-04 California grocery workers’ strike, which lasted for about five months, making it the longest supermarket strike in UFCW history. Icaza led the negotiations on behalf of UFCW Local 770, aiming to preserve middle-class jobs amid a challenging economic climate. The strike resulted in a two-tiered labor system, marking a significant point in his career and labor history. Despite facing criticism for his strategies and leadership style, Icaza remained steadfast in his pursuit of labor rights, leaving a legacy that continues to influence the labor movement in California and beyond.
Ricardo Icaza, Renowned Labor Leader of UFCW Local 770, Dies at 89
Ricardo "Rick" Icaza, a prominent Southern California labor leader and former president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, passed away at the age of 89. Icaza was a respected figure in the labor movement, earning a reputation as a formidable negotiator, particularly during the grocery union’s repeated confrontations with the area’s supermarket chains.
A Life Dedicated to the Labor Movement
Icaza served the UFCW Local 770 for an impressive 64 years, initially joining while bagging groceries at Ralphs and studying business at UCLA. His dedication saw him rise through the ranks to the top of the union, where he continued to work well beyond the typical retirement age. The union acknowledged Icaza’s contributions on social media, crediting his leadership for positioning UFCW at the forefront of California’s labor movement and beyond.
Born to Mexican immigrants during the Great Depression, Icaza’s career was shaped by his humble beginnings and a strong work ethic. After earning a business degree from UCLA in 1956, he joined UFCW Local 770 as a researcher and spent 36 years as president.
The Pivotal 2003-04 Grocery Workers’ Strike
One of the most notable episodes in Icaza’s career was the 2003-04 California grocery workers’ strike, which became the longest supermarket strike in UFCW history. As Walmart began aggressively expanding into California, grocery chains sought worker concessions to stay competitive. This move resulted in stalled contract negotiations and ultimately led to a strike involving over 70,000 unionized workers.
Icaza’s leadership was tested during this period, with some questioning the union’s strategy and his salary. However, Icaza remained committed to the workers, expressing his distress at the hardship the strike caused. The strike eventually ended with a contract introducing a two-tiered labor system, seen by many as a victory for the supermarket giants.
A Lasting Legacy
Despite the strike’s outcome, Icaza’s commitment to the workers never wavered. He played a crucial role in securing a $70 million settlement from Ralphs for illegally rehiring locked-out union members during the strike, a significant increase from the initially proposed $40 million.
Icaza’s influence extended beyond his professional life. His emphasis on educational achievement and finding the best in people inspired his daughter Desiree Kellogg, who currently serves as a deputy attorney general with the California attorney general’s office. Kathy Finn, the current president of UFCW Local 770, praised Icaza’s efforts in promoting gender equity within the union.
Icaza also had a substantial impact on the wider labor movement in California. From marching alongside farmworkers with Cesar Chavez in the 1980s to overseeing the integration of the cannabis industry into the union in the 2010s, his influence was substantial and enduring.
Ricardo Icaza’s life and career are a testament to the power of dedication and commitment to a cause. Despite facing significant challenges, Icaza remained steadfast in his commitment to the workers he represented, even when it meant enduring personal criticism. His influence extended beyond his union and has left a lasting impact on the labor movement in California.
His life story serves as a reminder that leadership is not about personal gain, but about serving those you represent and striving for a better, more equitable future. Icaza’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of labor leaders.