SEATTLE -- United Food and Commercial Workers Union members here have voted to accept new, three-year contracts that will reduce supermarket operators' burden in providing health care benefits.
The contracts cover about 11,000 workers at Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger's QFC and Fred Meyer chains. About 7,000 workers who are members of UFCW Local 367 did not vote on the contracts after leaders of their local dropped out of the negotiations a few days before the two sides reached an agreement.
According to the union, the new contracts -- which cover clerks and meatcutters in four other UFCW locals -- reduce employers' hourly contribution to the health care plan from $4.60 per hour to $3.43 per hour, effective Sept. 1. Those contributions are fixed for three years, the union said, so that employees would be liable for any shortfalls in funding the plan.
Employees, who previously did not contribute to their health insurance, must now pay $7 per individual or $18 per family per week, according to reports.
The contracts passed with a combined 83% vote in favor, according to information posted on the Web site of UFCW Local 1105.
"This agreement does exactly what we set out to do -- protect affordable health care benefits," said Sharon McCann, president, Local 1105, in a prepared statement. Other locals could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for the supermarket companies said the chains were satisfied with the new labor agreements, which replace contracts that expired on May 2. "The employers believe that the new contract will enable them to remain competitive in the Puget Sound area while maintaining quality wages and benefits for their employees," said the spokeswoman, Melinda Merrill, in a prepared statement.
Although the union said it avoided the creation of a two-tier system for employee wages, the new contracts do create two levels of health care coverage in which new hires must work three years before they can enroll in the plan offered to current employees. New hires have a higher deductible -- $250 for individuals and $750 for families, vs. $150 for individuals and $300 for families under the old plan -- and must also pay a higher percentage of the cost of their medical bills -- 20% vs. 15%.
Among the wage provisions in the new contract is a reduction in the Sunday premium to 1-1/3 times base pay, from 1-1/2 times under the old contact. Raises include 30 cents per hour for current journeymen in the first and third years of the contract and a cash bonus equal to 30 cents per hour in the second year.
New hires also need to work longer -- 7,800 hours, or about 45 months at 40 hours per week -- to advance to a higher job classification. It was not clear what the previous rate of progression was.
The plan bore some resemblance to the agreement that was reached in Southern California after a 141-day strike-lockout, but in Southern California, a two-tier wage system was created for new hires.