SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Eight locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in the San Francisco Bay Area are scheduled to hold their second meetings with the three major operators in the marketplace later this week to discuss preliminary matters as they begin the effort to negotiate new contracts to succeed those that expired Sept. 11.
The unions have already agreed to indefinite contract extensions -- with five days' cancellation notice -- with Albertsons, Raley's, Safeway and Save Mart. They expect to make the same accommodation with Kroger later this week, according to Ron Lind, president of UFCW Local 428 here, who serves as spokesman for the eight locals.
The Bay Area contracts cover 30,000 grocery employees at stores operating along the California coast from Monterey north to the Oregon border.
Negotiations are continuing in the Sacramento Valley with UFCW Local 588, which represents 19,000 workers at approximately 350 stores stretching inland from Sacramento north to the Oregon border. That contract expired July 7 and involves the same five chains.
Speaking to members on a recorded hotline, Jack Loveall, president of Local 588, said last week, "We are making some positive steps, but it's not easy, and we have a long way to go."
A management Web site did not discuss details of either negotiation or any specifics the chains might propose.
Lind said union and management negotiators in the Bay Area have met only once and have not gotten anywhere close to discussing specific issues, "but the chains have made no secret [in other negotiations] that their two primary issues are two-tier employees and cuts in health benefits, and we're resistant to both," he told SN.
"We know we will have to make some modifications to the health care plan, but the costs they've proposed in contract negotiations in other parts of the country are too high."
The UFCW is negotiating separately with Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway, though representatives of each company are usually in the room when the union is talking with one of the others, Lind said. It has not met with either Raley's or Save Mart, he revealed.
According to Lind, the delay in signing a contract extension with Kroger is due to uncertainty over negotiations in Southern California with Kroger's Food 4 Less chain, "and because of some verbal attacks on the union and its officers by Kroger personnel, which is kind of an aggressive stance to take this early in the process," he said.
However, the union is also taking an aggressive stance, Lind acknowledged, with efforts under way in the Bay Area to ask consumers to fill out cards promising to boycott companies "that try to take benefits away from workers," he explained. The union is seeking sign-ups outside supermarkets, as well as at county fairs, churches and various public events -- "wherever people gather," Lind said.
Lind said the Bay Area locals are keeping in touch with UFCW locals in other regions that are in the midst of contract negotiations, including Sacramento, Denver, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Cincinnati, "because what we learned in the fight in Southern California is that the employers are willing to wait it out, and if we have to get into a battle, we may have to spread the pain over a broader area."
In Southern California, members of the seven locals who work for Food 4 Less have rejected a contract proposal, Ellen Anreder, a UFCW spokeswoman, told SN, "though it wasn't a 'last, best and final' offer."
The offer was rejected by what Anreder said was "an overwhelming vote," after which union members voted to support the UFCW "in whatever economic action is necessary, up to a strike, though that is a last resort."
Anreder said the economic actions "could involve a variety of options," though she declined to pinpoint any of them.