Grocery chains and UFCW make some progress; more talks planned – Daily News

on Jul23
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Three days of negotiations last week yielded some progress, but Southern California’s largest supermarket chains and the union that represents its workers still have a long way to go in the pursuit of a labor contract.

Executives of Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions agreed last week to drop a provision that would have downgraded the job classification for cashiers at some 500 supermarkets, which leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers said would have slashed those workers’ pay by 25%.

The two sides will meet again for three days starting July 30. They remain far apart on matters that include wage gains, hours, health care benefits and pensions.

News of the elimination of the proposed cashier reclassification was revealed in an update appearing on the website of Local 770, which represents Los Angeles County workers.

“This was encouraging, but we’re five months into this and it shouldn’t have ever been on the table in the first place,” Joe Duffle, president of Local 1167, which represents Inland Empire workers, said of the cashier concession. “It was pretty ridiculous.”

The two sides have been in negotiations — which affect some 60,000 Southern California workers — since early March. The employees have been working under terms of a contract that expired on March 3.

Last month, 96% of UFCW members in the seven locals voted to authorize its leaders to call a strike if necessary, and Duffle said the membership is serious about its proposals.

“As soon as the employers figure out that we’re going to hang strong, then we’ll see what happens,” he said. “Our memberships’ principles are wages, benefits, hours and pensions. These are all huge for us.”

Union leaders have said that the companies are offering wage gains of only 1%, and sharp declines to their contributions to the health care plan.

In an e-mailed statement, John Votava, Ralphs’ director of corporate affairs, said last week’s talks focused on contract language, health care and wages. Representatives of the other chains did not reply to requests for comment.

“We’ll continue to meet with the unions, exchange proposals and come to a fair and balanced offer,” Votava said in the email. “With a balanced approach, this next agreement can be a win for everyone.”

Other union locals on the West Coast are currently in negotiations, and last week Roseville-based UFCW 8-Golden State reached a tentative agreement with Vons and Safeway in Northern and Central California. Talks with other chains in that area are continuing.

Also, UFCW members in Portland, Ore., voted to authorize a strike earlier this month.

Greg Conger, president of Orange County’s Local 324, said the Local 8-Golden State’s settlement “certainly doesn’t hurt us,” but added that Southern California workers have specific needs, so he doesn’t foresee an identical deal.

“We wouldn’t accept anything less” than the Northern California contract, Conger said.

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