Bay Area Grocery Store Chains, Union Reach Tentative Contract Agreement
Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers on Monday announced a tentative labor agreement, under which the grocery store chains would continue to pay all health premiums for covered workers, the San Jose Mercury News reports. However, the proposal would increase copayments and deductibles for employees and would require retirees, who currently pay no premiums for health care coverage, to pay $70 monthly premiums beginning in January.
In addition, the proposal would increase the tenure requirement to be eligible for the health plan with the most benefits from two years to six years. The contract would apply to about 30,000 UFCW members in the Bay Area (Johnson/Chandler, San Jose Mercury News, 1/25).
The deal "end[s] months of discord and avoid[s] another costly supermarket strike in California," the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Liedtke, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/25).
"I think both sides are trying to avoid a strike at all costs," grocery industry expert Mitchell Corwin said, adding, "The Southern California dispute turned out badly for everyone."
The agreement between the grocery store chains and UFCW locals representing Bay Area workers does not include two "major concessions" included in the Southern California agreement: health insurance premiums partially paid for by employees and a two-tiered wage system that would reduce the pay scale of future workers, the Press-Enterprise reports (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 1/24).
UFCW spokesperson Ron Lind said the agreement was "the best grocery contract in the country," but he added that "[g]iven the current bargaining climate, we had to make some compromises we'd have preferred not to make" (San Jose Mercury News, 1/25).
Lind said the agreement is similar to a contract ratified earlier this month by UFCW Local 588, whose members work in the area of California north of Modesto. "The health plans are 95% the same," Lind said (Kasler, Sacramento Bee, 1/25). He added that under the proposal, workers "avoid a two-tier system, maintain good benefits, they do not have premium sharing and they do not have to walk a picket line for four-and-a-half months to get it" (Raine/Wallack, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/25).
Safeway spokesperson Teena Massingill said, "We hammered out a good contract that addresses the issues of skyrocketing health care costs and competition from nonunion grocers" (San Jose Mercury News, 1/25).
University of California-Berkeley labor expert Harley Shaiken said avoiding responsibility for health care premiums was a victory for the union. Shaiken said, "Health care is not simply the 800-pound gorilla of labor negotiations, it is a wildly unpredictable gorilla," adding, "This is a very good contract in a very tough context -- the precedent in Southern California and in the shadow of Wal-Mart." He said that the deal would "preserve some important precedents while making some painful sacrifices. And in the long term, the precedents may prove more important."
UFCW negotiators from the eight Bay Area union locals "unanimously said they would enthusiastically recommend ratification," the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/25). Agreement details will be mailed to union members, and meetings will be held throughout the Bay Area to discuss the proposal. Voting will be conducted by mail, with the final result expected by mid-February. The contract would be effective until Dec. 1, 2007 (San Jose Mercury News, 1/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.