Union Representing Grocery Store Workers Preparing for Possible Strike Over Health Benefits
The United Food and Commercial Workers in Northern California has collected about 75,000 pledges to boycott grocery store chains Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger in preparation for a potential strike, in part because of plans by the companies to shift more health care costs to employees, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Under the employers' proposal, grocery store workers would pay 20% of their health care costs. Workers pay nothing toward their health insurance premiums under the current contract but make copayments for doctor visits. The Times reports that the grocery chains also have proposed capping their contributions to employees' health benefits and administering the health plan independently rather than through a joint union-company fund.
The current proposal in Northern California is similar to the contract approved by grocery store workers in Southern California in late February after a strike and lockout, according to the Times (Fulmer, Los Angeles Times, 12/9).
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the eight UFCW locals in the Bay Area represent 30,000 union employees. Parallel negations are under way in Sacramento, where UFCW represents another 15,000 workers.
Organized labor groups say the proposed changes would "push members out of the middle class" and "force taxpayers to help cover their medical expenses" in some instances, according to the Chronicle.
The California Labor Federation on Wednesday agreed to assist the grocery union.
CLF Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said the coalition would not let "larger grocers shirk their responsibility" and pass "enormous costs onto working families and the taxpayers."
Safeway spokesperson Brian Dowling said adjustments in health benefits are necessary because unionized grocery stores "face skyrocketing health care costs in a changing competitive environment." Dowling added that "parking lot activities," such as collecting signatures from shoppers for potential boycotts, would not lead to "solutions of the challenges facing unionized grocers" (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9).