Grocery Stores, Union Members in Northern California Agree to Contract
Grocery store chains Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger on Sunday reached a labor agreement with 19,000 workers in Northern California after 10 months of negotiations and shortly before a union deadline for a strike vote, the AP/Modesto Bee reports.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 558 still must vote on the new contract, which would cover employees working in stores from Modesto to the Oregon border (Liedtke, AP/Modesto Bee, 12/21).
Union President Jack Loveall said details of the three-year agreement will remain confidential until after the vote, which will take place by mail this month.
However, Loveall said the proposed contract includes increased wages and would not require employees to pay premiums for health insurance. He also said that new employees would be offered "less generous" health care benefits, but they could receive the standard package for veteran employees with increased tenure, according to the Los Angles Times. In addition, employers' contribution to health coverage plans would be capped at a certain dollar amount.
The union said the proposed contract did not contain a "two-tier" wage and benefits system, under which new employees are paid less and receive fewer benefits than employees who started working under earlier contracts (Peltz, Los Angeles Times, 12/21).
The Contra Costa Times reports that although the terms of the proposed contract "appear overwhelmingly positive" for employees, "Loveall has a history of ballyhooing his deals before disclosing less agreeable details" (Temple, Contra Costa Times, 12/21).
Loveall said that the agreement is "the finest contract in the supermarket industry" and said it "will set the standard and formula for other negotiations facing these complex issues" (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 12/21).
He said, "We just dug our heels in and made it clear that we were willing to go on strike if we had to. Nobody wanted to do that, not the employers, not our membership." Loveall said part of the strategy included reaching contract agreements with independent grocers, which he did last week with Bel Air, Raley's and Nob Hill markets, to give him leverage in negotiations with larger companies (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21).
In a statement, Safeway officials said they are "pleased" with the contract proposal but did not elaborate further.
Neither Albertsons nor Kroger commented on the tentative agreement.
The tentative contract in Northern California "could provide a blueprint for ending negotiations that are continuing between stores and about 30,000 union members in the San Francisco area," according to the Los Angeles Times. The current, extended contract for Bay Area supermarket employees expires on Jan. 15 (Los Angeles Times, 12/21).
Ron Lind, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers' union in the Bay Area, said, "On its face, [the proposed contract] sounds very good, and it's very positive," adding that union officials would need to examine the Northern California contract to understand how it might affect workers in the San Francisco area (San Jose Mercury News, 12/21).
Lind said, "As always, we are willing to work with companies to find solutions to the health care crisis, but we remain firm in our core goals of preserving quality, affordable health care for current members, future members, our families and retirees" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21).