UFCW, Grocers in California Reach Tentative Pact for 48,000

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By Rhonda Smith

Aug. 5 — United Food and Commercial Workers members working at grocery stores owned by Kroger Co. and Cerberus Capital Management are scheduled Aug. 8-9 to vote on a proposed bargaining agreement for 48,000 workers at about 300 supermarkets in Central and Southern California.

“We're recommending this package—which we believe is a good package—to our membership,” Rick Icaza, president of the Los Angeles-based UFCW Local 770, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 5.

Reaching a three-year tentative pact on a proposed contract helped avert a planned strike that UFCW-represented workers recently authorized after negotiations dragged on for five months.

Seven UFCW locals participated in the bargaining process. If ratified, the proposed pact would cover about 11,000 workers at Albertsons, 19,500 at Vons and 17,500 at Ralphs. The previous contract expired March 6.

Ralphs is a subsidiary of Kroger, while Albertsons and Vons are owned by Cerberus Capital Management.

Although details about the tentative agreement won't be released until after UFCW members vote on it, Icaza said: “We wouldn't be recommending the package if we felt the wages weren't adequate.”

Other areas of concern during the negotiations included employer contributions to the workers' pension and health and welfare benefits, said Icaza, who was one of the chief negotiators in the contract talks.

Grocers Respond

“We will continue to provide retail employees with pay that significantly exceeds the minimum wage, along with comprehensive health, welfare and pension benefits,” Albertsons and Vons said in an Aug. 5 statement.

The tentative agreement “acknowledges the important contributions of our front-line employees, our most valuable asset, and allows our company to remain competitive,” the grocers said.

Ralphs released its statement the same day. “We are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with the unions that rewards our associates and allows all of us to continue to provide excellent shopping experiences for Ralphs customers,” it said.

The employees and their supporters held numerous community marches and rallies in various cities where Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons supermarkets are based.

The workers also gathered 15,000 signatures from the grocers' customers on a petition, signaling their support of the employees, Icaza said.

FMCS Involved in Negotiations

Officials from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service helped the parties reach tentative agreement.

“These were long and difficult bargaining sessions, and through the efforts of our FMCS mediators, the parties stayed at the table and made difficult choices that resulted in today’s agreement,” FMCS Director Allison Beck said in a statement released Aug. 4.

FMCS Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh and Commissioner Isael Hermosillo helped both parties “in resolving their differences,” Beck said.

Both parties would likely have been hit hard by a strike, analysts told Bloomberg BNA in July.

The union's strike fund might have been severely depleted, they said, and supermarkets could've permanently lost customers to their competition in an industry increasingly crowded with supercenters, warehouse club stores, limited assortment stores, online sellers, farmers' markets and ethnic food stores.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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