SoCal grocery workers approve new contract
Union workers at more than 850 Southern California grocery stores overwhelmingly approved a new contract Sunday, bringing to an end more than six months of negotiations with three major grocery chains.
The new four-year contract will provide more than 63,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union with their first raise in five years and also roll back wage and benefit concessions negotiated during the 141-day strike-lockout in 2003-2004.
The average raise for workers under the new contract will be about 40 cents an hour and new employees will be eligible for health benefits sooner. The previous contract had instituted a contentious two-tier system where newer employees received less pay and had to work much longer to receive full benefits. The new contract eliminated the two-tier system.
The contract also restructures the workers' current health care plan, providing each employee with health reimbursement accounts and 100 percent coverage of preventive care procedures.
Union members approved the new contract by a margin of 87 percent to 13 percent in the weekend vote, with more than half of the eligible members casting ballots.
Representatives for the chains — Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions units, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs chain, and Supervalu's Albertsons — had predicted last week that the union members would approve the deal.
The union had been negotiating with the chains since the previous contract between the chains and union workers expired in March. The previous contract had been automatically extending on a day-to-day basis while negotiations continued.
The five-month strike in late 2003 and early 2004 put nearly 70,000 grocery workers in southern and central California on the picket lines. The acrimonious strike by the union and lockout of employees by some chains eventually cost supermarkets $2.5 billion in profits.