Unions and food retailers in various markets settled some longstanding disagreements last week and moved closer to resolution on others, paving the way for additional settlements in the weeks ahead.
Tentative contracts in Chicago and Seattle were scheduled to be presented to union members for approval, and workers in New England and Kentucky approved new pacts after extended negotiations.
Following is a summary of the major developments:
In Chicago, meat, fish and deli workers reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract with Jewel Food stores, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546. If ratified by union members later this month, the deal would end a long stalemate with Jewel and could provide a model for an agreement between union workers and Dominick's stores, which have been locked in bitter negotiations for two years.
Local 1546 is negotiating along with Local 881, Oak Brook, Ill., for a deal with Dominick's, a division of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway. Jewel is a division of Albertsons, Boise, Idaho.
According to Local 1546's Web site, the tentative contract agreement with Jewel "protects the job security of the members, provides wage increases for all members during the term of the agreement and assures that members will be eligible for affordable and adequate health insurance coverage." S.J. Peters, a spokesman for the union, declined further comment pending the results of a ratification vote expected by Aug. 27. The union is recommending its members approve the contract.
In Seattle, UFCW Locals 44, 81, 381 and 1105, along with Teamsters Local 38, reached a tentative agreement with Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger's QFC and Fred Meyer chains for a new contract covering most of the workers in the area. Members were scheduled to vote on the new contract on Sunday, Aug. 15. Neither the chains nor the union would discuss terms of the pact, although a statement on the Web site of UFCW Local 1105 said the contract did not call for the creation of a "two-tier" wage and benefits system in which new hires are compensated on a reduced scale.
Just a few days before the agreement on the new contract was reached, UFCW Local 367, Tacoma, Wash., broke off from the other locals, saying it could not recommend to its members changes that were being implemented.
"At this point, we believe we have member support," Teresa Iverson, president of the local, told SN. As of late last week, she said she had been unable to schedule additional meetings with the employers, but she anticipated that the same federal mediator who assisted in the settlement with the other locals would remain involved in her local's talks. Local 367 represents about 7,000 of the 17,000 area workers whose contracts expired in May.
UFCW Local 227, Louisville, Ky., last week voted to ratify a four-year labor agreement covering 10,000 workers at 79 Kroger stores in Kentucky and southern Indiana. However, workers at five stores in rural Kentucky rejected the deal and may authorize a strike, the union said.
"While it's not everything we wanted or deserve it is the best contract negotiated with the Kroger Co. anywhere in the country," Gary K. Best, president, Local 227, said in a statement. "It does accomplish much of what we set out to do."
According to Kroger, Cincinnati, the deal provides wages and benefits that will allow the company to compete with other retailers in the market. Published reports said the contract calls for 8% raises over three years. Health care costs for workers will remain the same for two years but in 2007 workers will choose between a plan that requires them to pay a weekly premium or a no-premium option with reduced benefits.
Stores that rejected the deal are in Brandenburg, Stanton, Monticello, Russell Springs and Whiteley City, Ky. Members at those stores may authorize a strike, the union said.
UFCW Local 791, South Eaton, Mass., overwhelmingly ratified four-year contracts with Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., covering workers at 39 stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as warehouse employees at Shaw's Wells Point distribution center in Maine.
According to Peter Derouen, a spokesman for Local 791, the union was able to maintain its level of benefits while also providing Shaw's with some cost relief. Shaw's withdrew its proposal of company health plans, but reduced its contribution to the union's health plan, Derouen said. The union was able to negotiate lower weekly employee contributions toward health care than those initially proposed by Shaw's.
On the issue of compensation, the parties agreed on yearly hourly increases of 62.5 cents for full-time employees and hourly increases of 25 cents, 20 cents, 30 cents and 35 cents each year of the deal for part-time employees. Shaw's previously had proposed yearly bonuses without hourly pay increases.
"I think we got a good contract," Derouen told SN. "You cannot turn your head on issues the company has. It comes down to bargaining within reason."
"These were tough negotiations," added Terry Donilon, a spokesman for Shaw's. "Both sides worked incredibly hard to reach agreement. There was a lot at stake."