Grocery Worker Talks Stall on Health Care Benefits
Despite a vote on Sunday by United Food and Commercial Workers union members to authorize a strike against three grocery chains in Southern California, both sides have indicated a commitment to returning to the bargaining table to reach a new contract agreement, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
The union said the strike authorization was necessary to force Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons to take the negotiations seriously (Davies, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/26). The current contract with all three chains has been extended twice since its March 5 expiration date (White, Los Angeles Times, 6/26).
The contract was the result of a 4.5-month strike and lockout in 2004. A new contract typically is renegotiated every three years (California Healthline, 6/5).
Brad Chase, spokesperson for all three grocery chains, said negotiations should resume within the next week or so.
Mike Shimpock, spokesperson for the grocery workers, said the grocery chains have proposed to reduce by half the employer contributions for health care coverage (Mintz, Ventura County Star, 6/26).
Mickey Kasparian, head of UFCW Local 135 in San Diego and Imperial counties, said union officials have offered to earmark for health insurance coverage about half of the reserves in a $500 million account jointly operated by the union and the grocery stores.
The stores have called for using about $350 million from the fund for health insurance costs (Davies, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/27).
Ken Jacobs, chair of UC-Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, writes in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece that the decline in employer-based health care coverage is at "the heart of the [contract] dispute."
Jacobs cites a recent UC-Berkeley study of grocery worker health care benefits, which found that for workers hired after the 2004 strike, waiting periods for health care benefits rose from four months to:
- 12 months for individual coverage;
- 18 months for courtesy clerks; and
- 30 months for family coverage.
The study also found new workers were required to pay 20% of the premium cost. Consequently, only 7% of those workers obtained employer-sponsored health care coverage, according to the study. Half of the workers were uninsured, while the rest were covered by a dependent or a public subsidy, the study found.
According to Jacobs, "This steep and sudden drop in job-based health coverage among grocery workers in Southern California over the last three years is emblematic of what is happening with job-based health care in general in California and the U.S., but just at a speedier pace" (Jacobs, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/26).