Health Benefits Unresolved in Grocery Worker Talks
United Food and Commercial Workers union and three major grocery chains in Southern California on Monday agreed to a request by a federal mediator to extend their labor contract for two weeks, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. The contract was set to expire at midnight on Monday (Shikes, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 3/5).
Union officials said they agreed to the extension because the grocery chains had agreed to negotiate a new contract (Davies, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/6).
Mediator Linda Gonzalez of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service during the next two weeks will set dates for negotiations between the union and Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons.
The grocery chains issued a joint statement, saying that "it is not unusual for negotiations to continue past the scheduled expiration of the current contract." They added that an extension will allow both sides "to address our shared concerns including rising health care costs, wages and benefits" (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 3/5).
The union said it wants to eliminate a two-tier employee system that is in the current contract. Under the system, new employees have longer waiting periods to qualify for health care benefits and must pay a greater share of the cost.
The current contract was the result of a 4.5-month strike and lockout in 2004. A new contract typically is renegotiated every three years, according to the Union-Tribune (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/6).
If the contract expires without another extension or new contract, the 65,000 employees would continue to receive the same wages and benefits, but the employee grievance process would be terminated. As a result, if a worker is fired or disciplined, the union would have to challenge the employer through the National Labor Relations Board or a court.
The union also is able to strike or boycott any of the companies or their stores. The grocery chains in return could lock out the employees, according to the Press-Enterprise (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 3/5).