Grocery Store Workers Approve Contract, End Strike
Unionized grocery store workers in Southern California this weekend voted to approve a three-year contract and ended a five-month strike and lockout that largely focused on health benefits, the Los Angeles Times reports (O'Dell, Los Angeles Times, 3/1). The dispute -- which involved 59,000 United Food and Commercial Workers members employed at 852 Safeway-owned Vons and Pavillions, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Albertsons stores -- began on Oct. 11 when Vons and Pavillions employees rejected a contract that would have capped health benefits for current workers and established lower health benefit and wage tiers for new hires. Albertsons and Ralphs locked out their workers the next day in support of Safeway. Officials for the grocery store chains said their workers had a "Cadillac health plan" that they could not maintain in a market with nonunion competitors, such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Trader Joe's. In combined wages and benefits, Wal-Mart workers earn between $8 and $12 less per hour than the unionized grocery store workers, officials for the grocery store chains said. After 16 days of negotiations, grocery store chain and union officials on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Union members voted on the contract Saturday and Sunday (California Healthline, 2/27). About 86% of the union members who voted approved the contract (Calbreath/Washburn, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/1).
Some of the terms of the contract include:
- Current workers will not have to pay health insurance premiums for the first two years of the contract. In the third year, they will have to pay premiums in the event that the contributions made by the grocery store chains do not cover costs; in such a case, current employees would have to pay as much as $5 per week for individual health coverage and as much as $15 per week for family coverage.
- Workers will have to make copayments for certain medical services (Los Angeles Times, 3/1). Under the previous contract, they only had to make $10 copays for physician visits and prescriptions.
- Workers hired after Oct. 5 -- when the previous contract expired -- will have a separate "basic" health plan. They also will receive lower wages (Veiga, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/1).
- Current workers will receive a lump sum payment of 30 cents per hour for every hour worked in the 12 months prior to the expiration of the previous contract and a similar bonus after the second year of the new contract. They will not receive raises.
NPR's "Morning Edition" Monday reported on the approval of the new contract. The segment includes comments from UFCW spokesperson Ellen Anreder and Mark Husson, an analyst for investment research firm Morningstar (Jaffe, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/1). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, KQED's "California Report" Monday reported on the approval (Anderson, "California Report," KQED, 3/1). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.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.