COMPTON, Calif. -- Employees at 101 Food 4 Less stores in Southern California are expected to vote this week on new labor agreements, while negotiations in other areas of the country continued last week with little change.
The previous Food 4 Less contract expired Feb. 28 and had been extended indefinitely while a new contract was being negotiated. The contract covers approximately 5,700 workers at Food 4 Less, which is the price-impact division of Kroger Co., Cincinnati.
Terms of the tentative agreement were not disclosed. The company said the seven locals of United Food and Commercial Workers Union whose members work at Food 4 Less have agreed to recommend ratification.
Meanwhile, separate rounds of negotiations in San Francisco and in California's Sacramento Valley were proceeding slowly last week, according to union sources.
In the Northern California talks in Sacramento involving five chains and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 588, the two sides were "in constant talks ... [and] making progress, although it continues to be slow and difficult," Jack Loveall, president of the local, said in a prerecorded message.
The major issues under discussion include health and welfare costs, pensions and two-tier wage systems, Loveall said. "But we won't agree to anything that will destroy health and welfare benefits or [impose] a two-tier wage system that will create immeasurable problems in working conditions that took decades to establish," he indicated.
The Northern California contract, which expired July 17, covers 19,000 workers at approximately 350 stores that stretch inland from Sacramento north to the Oregon border operated by Albertsons, Kroger, Raley's, Safeway and Save Mart.
In the Bay Area, initial meetings with Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway have dealt primarily with grievance procedures and how to improve the process, according to a union Web site.
The union said three key problems exist with grievance procedures: cutbacks by the chains in the labor relations department that have resulted a backlog of cases; removal of most decision-making authority from district and store managers into the hands of understaffed labor relations departments, and an inability of shop stewards to have contractual power to deal with problems at store level.
The Bay Area contract, which expired Sept. 11, covers 30,000 grocery employees in eight UFCW locals working at stores along the California coast from Monterey north to the Oregon border operated by the same five chains as the Northern California agreement.
In Denver, negotiations continued last week between representatives of UFCW Local 7 and Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger's King Soopers chain. That contract, which also expired on Sept. 11, has been extended until Oct. 16.
David Minshall, a spokesman for the workers, said little progress was made in negotiations through a mediator last week.
One of the main sticking points, he said, is the maintenance of benefits clause, which provides for increased payments as health-insurance costs rise.
"The companies propose that workers pay the lion's share of whatever the increase is," he said.
The union is scheduled to discuss the contracts with all three chains again this week.
The contracts cover about 17,300 workers at 200 of the companies' stores in Colorado. They have voted to authorize a strike, but Minshall said the contract could be extended again.
In Cincinnati, Kroger was scheduled to resume negotiations with its hometown union workers this week, after the union called the chain's latest health care proposal "extremely disappointing."
The contract with UFCW Local 1099, which represents 8,500 workers at 74 Cincinnati-area Kroger stores, expires Oct. 9. In recent negotiations, the sides exchanged health care proposals that were "not even close," according to the Local 1099 Web site. Negotiations will continue on Tuesday, the union said.