DENVER -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union last week asked a federal mediator to bring both sides back to the bargaining table in negotiations here between UFCW Local 7 and the three chains it has been bargaining with.
After suspending voting on new contracts that had been proposed by Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger-owned King Soopers the previous week, the UFCW last week said it would prevent any further voting on the contract proposals until the health care provisions had been modified.
"Our actions today are focused on one clear goal: protecting health benefits and securing the best possible contract for supermarket workers," said Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW national office in Washington. "We are moving to put the collective bargaining process back on track to resolve this situation without sacrificing affordable health care."
He said the union was opposed to the proposed abolition of a jointly administered health and welfare fund, and to a proposed change that would allow the chains to open new stores without union workers.
"Historically, jointly administered union and management health benefit trust funds have provided higher-quality coverage for lower costs than if the employers purchased insurance on the open market," the UFCW said in the statement.
The intervention of the national office in the Denver negotiations pulled the plug on the local's reported goal to call a strike in time to put a dent in the chains' Thanksgiving sales.
"Think of this as a Thanksgiving present from Colorado grocery workers to every shopper in Colorado," said Dave Minshall, a spokesman for the workers. "Colorado grocery workers' best opportunity to strike the chains is at Thanksgiving. The workers are going to take one more crack at negotiations instead."
Workers in Colorado Springs and Denver had already voted on the contract and appeared to favor a strike when Hansen stopped the vote, according to Minshall. That vote is now void.
Workers continue to be covered under the previous contract, which expired on Sept. 11, but has been extended. The contract covers about 17,500 workers.
"It is my obligation to make sure we have exhausted every possible option at the bargaining table and elsewhere before asking UFCW members to sacrifice on the picket line in order to protect affordable health care," Hansen said.
Analysts had speculated that the union was seeking to avoid the costs of another strike-lockout like the 10-week labor action that ended in California earlier this year, although the union denied that its resources were a motive in halting the voting.
Meanwhile, workers at Safeway stores in western Colorado rejected a labor contract offer from the Pleasanton, Calif.-based chain that Minshall said was "worse in every aspect" than the one offered to workers in the rest of the state two weeks ago. The contract in the western part of the state, known as the Western Slope, covers about 1,200 workers at 16 Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger-owned City Market stores. The three chains are negotiating separately. The contract expired at the same time as the one in Denver and was similar, Minshall said.
Safeway was successful in negotiating a new labor contract in western Canada, however. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, Winnipeg, Manitoba, approved a new contract with Safeway Canada, averting a strike that was scheduled to begin there last week. According to a statement from the union, the new contract includes wage increases for all members over the life of the 52-month pact. It also includes signing bonuses of $750 Canadian (about $623 U.S.) for full-time employees. The contract covers about 3,000 workers at 35 Safeway stores in Manitoba.