Health Benefits Resolved In Grocery Worker Talks
The United Food and Commercial Workers union and three grocery chains in Southern California have reached a tentative agreement on health care benefits that could signal an end to contract negotiations since January , the Los Angeles Times reports. Some believe a deal will be finalized before July 4.
Both sides said they cannot publicly disclose details of the agreement because of a news blackout requested by a federal mediator (Hirsch, Los Angeles Times, 6/2).
The current contract with all three chains was the result of a 4.5-month strike and lockout in 2004. A new contract typically is renegotiated every three years (California Healthline, 4/30). The contract was set to expire March 5 but has been extended twice.
Negotiators have agreed in principle to a six-month waiting period for new employees to qualify for health care coverage. Under the current contract, new workers must wait either one year or 18 months to obtain benefits.
The waiting period for dependents of workers also would be reduced under the new agreement.
Both sides, however, continue to disagree over the size of a health care reserve fund to be used if costs are higher than estimated or more workers enroll than expected, according to people close to the negotiations.
Such a gap in spending is estimated as high as $90 million, which is not substantial when compared to the estimated $1.5 billion that the health plan likely will cost over four years, according to the Times.
Both sides have agreed to help pay for the plan with a portion of $500 million in reserves in a jointly operated health care trust fund.
The grocery chains want to use up to $350 million to pay for coverage, but union officials say that taking any more than $230 million to $240 million would jeopardize the plan (Los Angeles Times, 6/2).