Grocery Store Workers’ Contract Expands Health Care Benefits
Workers at Southern California grocery store chain locations voted to approve a contract on Monday that expands health care benefits and takes new steps to control rising health care costs, the Los Angeles Times reports.
About 87% of United Food and Commercial Workers union members who participated in the vote signed off on the contract. The workers are employed at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores from San Diego to Bakersfield.
The contract will end a two-tier pay and benefits system that limited new employees' wages and extended the time they had to work to qualify for health care benefits.
Under the contract:
- All new workers and second-tier workers will pay weekly health insurance premiums ranging from $7 to $15, depending on their number of dependents;
- Long-standing employees will continue to pay no premiums for health care benefits;
- Weight management, smoking cessation and other wellness programs will be available to workers at no cost or at a reduced cost;
- Preventive care services -- such as mammograms, physicals and some pediatric care -- will be covered completely;
- Copayments for maintenance treatments for diabetes, asthma and other chronic conditions will be reduced; and
- Companies will deposit $500 annually into a health reimbursement account for workers (Los Angeles Times, 7/24).
In addition, the new contract reduces wait times for eligibility for health care benefits. New employees will qualify for benefits in six months, down from 12 months; workers' children also will be eligible for coverage after six months, a decrease from 30 months (Davies/Darcé, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/24). Employees' spouses will qualify for benefits after 24 months, down from 30 months (Los Angeles Times, 7/24).
The contract also calls for the union to contribute $240 million from a trust fund jointly managed with the chains toward employees' health care costs. The grocery stores initially sought $350 million from the trust fund (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/24).
Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, said the agreement was "partially an admission that two-tier systems don't work," a characterization that the stores' representatives dismissed (Los Angeles Times, 7/24).
Steve Burd -- chair, president and CEO of Safeway, which owns Vons and Pavillions -- said, "We know from experience these changes will create an improved health plan for our employees that focuses on improving their health through prevention and wellness while simultaneously helping control escalating health care costs" (Mintz, Ventura County Star, 7/24).
Preventive care and wellness benefits included in the Southern California contract are under consideration in negotiations in Seattle and likely will be included in contract proposals in Central and Northern California later this year (Los Angeles Times, 7/24).
The contract will provide workers with their first pay increases in five years.
Representatives of the grocery store chains declined to comment on the cost of the contract to the companies (Scott, Los Angeles Daily News, 7/23).
Funding for pensions also will continue at current levels (Ventura County Star, 7/24).