Northern California Grocery Workers Reach Contract Agreement; Bay Area Employees’ Contracts Not Extended
Northern California grocery store employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 588 on Dec. 19, 2004, voted 83.2% in favor of ratifying a contract negotiated last month with Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger, Reuters/Los Angeles Times reports (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 1/8).
The contract includes a wage increase and does not require employees to pay health insurance premiums. In addition, employers' contributions to health plans will be capped at $5.51 per hour per employee. If health care costs increase by 30% during the contract, the union and its members must cover the increase through unspecified means.
Workers' health care costs will increase under the contract, and new employees must be employed for a longer period before achieving the same benefit levels as existing employees.
Under a PPO plan, tenured workers will be responsible for paying deductibles ranging from $200 per individual to $600 per family. Under a non-PPO plan, new workers will pay deductibles ranging from $600 per person and $1,800 per family.
The contract does not include a two-tier wage and benefits system, under which new employees would be paid less and receive fewer benefits than those who started working under earlier contracts. However, new workers must 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 (California Healthline, 1/5).
The contract also allows the grocery store chains to offer workers "buyouts," which could allow the chains to "shed veteran workers," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The contract covers employees working in stores from Modesto to the Oregon border. The grocery store chains are in separate negotiations with unions in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In related news, the three grocery chains on Monday announced that they will not extend Bay Area workers' contracts beyond Jan. 15 -- when the contracts expire -- but hope to reach an agreement before that time, the Chronicle reports. Grocers said that UFCW representatives have not requested a third contract extension.
Union officials last week presented a proposal they said would reduce employers' health care costs by more than $100 million over three years. The union's plan included doubling physician visit copayments from $10 to $20.
Safeway spokesperson Teena Massingill called the projected savings "pure fiction." Massingill said, "The employers believe we can reach an agreeable contract without there being a third extension. Our plan is to stay at the bargaining table and hammer out a good contract." She added, "Our employees deserve to have a good contract sooner rather than later."
Union spokesperson Ron Lind said that the lack of an extension "increases the likelihood that something bad could happen," such as a strike or work slowdown. He added, "We have not said what our next move is. We want to see how negotiations go this week" (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/11).