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Grocery Unions Reject Contract Offer, Vote to Authorize a Strike ‘If Necessary’

Negotiations are scheduled to continue next week between workers and representatives for Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons

After rejecting a health-care offer from three supermarket chains, the members of seven Southern California United Food & Commercial Workers unions have voted to authorize a strike “if necessary” at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons stores.

A federal mediator was called in and has scheduled more negotiations for Aug. 29, the unions reported Monday morning.

After months of negotiations focused mostly on health benefits, more than 90 percent of the UFCW members who voted over the weekend rejected the chain stores’ latest offer.

“We don’t want to strike,” UFCW Local 770 President Rick Icaza said in a statement. “We just want a fair deal that lets us take care of our families. We are sending a message to these corporations that if you work hard, you should get fair pay that allows you to take care of your family.”

Santa Barbara County store workers are members of Local 770, one of seven UFCW branches involved in negotiations with the supermarket chains. Spokesman Mike Shimpock did not return calls for comment.

“The supermarket corporations’ health-care offer would significantly increase out-of-pocket costs for struggling families and bankrupt our health-care benefits before the end of next year,” Icaza said.

The Orange County Register reported that the chains are accepting applications for temporary workers in case a strike is called.

UFCW Locals 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442 are involved in negotiations.

The existing contracts for the 62,000 union members expired in March, and there have been negotiations since. The proposal rejected over the weekend had no changes in prescription drug co-pays, PPO plan total deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, according to the OC Register. It would have made an HMO option available, pay 100 percent of most preventive care procedures and make benefits available employees who work at least 16 hours a week.

Employees would pay $9 per week for single coverage and $23 per week for full family coverage, instead of $7 and $15, respectively, as they do now. Those hired before March 2004 — about half of the employees — do not contribute weekly into their health-care plans.

Unions argue the proposal puts the health plan in danger of bankruptcy and could cost workers up to 50 percent of their take-home pay. There is not a wage proposal yet either, Icaza said in a statement.

There was a 141-day UFCW strike in 2003-04 after an agreement couldn’t be reached.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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