Northern California Agreement With Grocery Store Workers Would Raise Health Care Costs, Delay Benefits
A tentative labor agreement reached last month between grocery store chains Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger and workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 558 would increase workers' health care costs and the time it would take for new employees to reach the same benefit levels as existing employees, the Contra Costa Times reports. The proposed contract is "widely viewed as a harbinger for ongoing Bay Area negotiations," according to the Times (Temple, Contra Costa Times, 1/4).
The grocery store chains agreed to a three-year contract with 19,000 workers in Northern California after 10 months of negotiations. UFCW Local 558 President Jack Loveall said the proposed contract includes increased wages and would not require employees to pay premiums for health insurance. Loveall also said that new employees would be offered less generous health care benefits, but he added that they could receive the standard package for veteran employees with increased tenure (California Healthline, 12/21/04).
In addition, employers' contributions to health plans would be capped at $5.51 per hour per employee. If health care costs increased by 30% during the contract -- a "conservative" estimate -- the union and its members would have to cover the increase through unspecified means, the Times reports.
Under a PPO plan, tenured workers would be responsible for paying deductibles ranging from $200 per individual to $600 per family. Under a non-PPO plan, new workers would pay deductibles ranging from $600 per person and $1,800 per family (Contra Costa Times, 1/4).
Union officials 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 (California Healthline, 12/21/04). However, new workers would have to work six months to qualify for health benefits, 19 additional months for their families to become eligible for health benefits and six-and-a-half years to become eligible for the top health plan (Contra Costa Times, 1/4).
Members of the union still must vote on the new contract, which would cover employees working in stores from Modesto to the Oregon border. The current, extended contract for about 30,000 Bay Area supermarket employees expires Jan. 15 (California Healthline, 12/21/04).
Some members of UFCW 588 who are "incensed" over the contract's terms and "lack of clarity" have petitioned UFCW International to halt the vote, the Times reports.
In a petition to UFCW International President Joseph Hansen, the members state, "Without knowing costs of required copayments, medical coverage changes and exclusions (if these exist), it is impossible for members to make a reasonable decision on assuming the burdens of such costs or rejecting the employers' offer."
Ron Lind, spokesperson for a coalition of eight Bay Area UFCW locals, said the Northern California deal continues a positive trend in grocer contracts since the Southern California strike, adding, "And we plan to continue the trend." Lind said it was too early to predict how similar the Bay Area deal would be to the Northern California contract, but he added that the contract likely would form a template for the Bay Area negotiators (Contra Costa Times, 1/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.