Grocery Store Chains Reject Union Offer for Binding Arbitration To End Strike
Officials from three grocery store chains on Wednesday refused an offer from the United Food and Commercial Workers union for binding arbitration that would have ended a four-month strike and lockout by about 70,000 union members that centers mainly on health benefits, the Sacramento Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 2/5). Union officials in a press conference Wednesday proposed that a third-party arbitrator determine and impose a contract. If accepted, union employees would have returned to work immediately and temporary employees would have been fired, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune (Freeman, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/5). However, officials from Albertson's, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons issued a joint statement rejecting arbitration (Said, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/5). UFCW members who work at nearly 860 grocery stores in Southern California have been on strike since October. The grocery stores have sought a two-year wage freeze; a requirement that workers pay $780 in annual premiums for family health insurance; a cap on employer contributions to health benefits for workers; and a second tier of wages and health benefits for new hires in which employer contributions to health benefits would total about $1,800 per worker per year, compared with about $5,000 per worker per year under the past contract. The UFCW has made two unsuccessful attempts to restart negotiations with the three companies. The union and the grocery store chains have tried resolving their differences through negotiations with a federal mediator, and an attempt at secret negotiations without a mediator failed last month. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Monday said that he would take a role in strike negotiations if asked (California Healthline, 2/4).
In a statement issued within two hours of the union offer, grocery officials wrote that the offer was "just another effort to shift the focus away from the [UFCW's] apparent inability to find a negotiated settlement to this labor dispute," adding that negotiations would continue with federal mediator Peter Hurtgen (Cleeland, Los Angeles Times, 2/5). According to the Union-Tribune, a proposal of binding arbitration is "unusual" for a union, because it could force members to accept a contract favorable to the employers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/5). However, the Times notes that union leaders have been under "increasing pressure" from members to negotiate a contract (Los Angeles Times, 2/5). Union spokesperson Barbara Maynard said the grocery companies apparently "are not interested in seeing an end" to the strike, adding, "It is quite likely their plan is to break the union" (Sacramento Bee, 2/5). Mickey Kasparian, head of the UFCW Local 135 in San Diego, said, "If [the companies] don't agree to this, I would wonder whether this is just about our share of health care costs" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/5).
The following broadcast programs reported on the grocery store chains' rejection of the union's offer:
- KPCC's "Talk of the City": KPCC reporter Adolfo Guzman Lopez discusses the announcements (Felde, "Talk of the City," KPCC, 2/4). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- KQED's "California Report": The segment reports on the union offer and the grocery store chains' rejection (Anderson, "California Report," KQED, 2/5). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Greg Conger, president of president of UFCW Local 324 in Buena Park, and Ralphs spokesperson Terry O'Neil (Kahn, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.