October 21, 2013: Minutes before picketing was to begin, union negotiators representing almost 30,000 grocery store employees in western Washington state reached agreement on a contract with representatives of Safeway Inc., Kroger Co. and Albertsons LLC chains.
The grocery chains and the unions have been negotiating since March with a key issue being the elimination of health care coverage for thousands of grocery store employees around the region, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 spokesman Tom Geiger told Bloomberg BNA July 1 (127 DLR A-9, 7/2/13). The contract for UFCW Local 21 and UFCW Local 367 expired May 3. The contract for the 2,600 grocery clerks represented by International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 38 in Snohomish County expired Aug. 7.
Neither the unions nor the chains—represented by employment relations firm Allied Employers Inc. of Kirkland, Wash.—would reveal the terms of the tentative contract.
“We want to let the members hear what is in the proposal before anyone else,” Teamsters Joint Council 28 Collective Bargaining and Organizing Director Michael Beranbaum told Bloomberg BNA late Oct. 21.
“It is fair to say that holiday pay, health care coverage and pension security were key issues all the way up to the achievement of tentative agreements,” he said. Joint Council 28 represents more than 50,000 workers in Washington, Alaska and northern Idaho.
Geiger, speaking for some 27,000 UFCW-represented workers, told BNA late Oct. 21: “[T]he process from here is we are going to start working as early as tomorrow to figure out where and when the vote meetings are going to be.”
Teamsters Raised the Ante
A few minutes later, Allied Employers Vice President Scott Klitzke Powers issued a statement saying: “We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the unions that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees.” Powers said details wouldn't be released until after ratification, and he did not respond to Bloomberg BNA's requests for comment.
In the run-up to a walkout scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. PDT, the IBT had vowed to wield the extended power of its member drivers and distribution center employees to further the goals of the strike.
In an Oct. 3 statement, the union said: “The Joint Council will communicate with its thousands of members who work in the sanitation, recycle, composting, soft drink, beer, wine, liquor, dairy, organic food, poultry, bread and produce industries who may be dispatched by their employer to one of these grocery chains.
“Joint Council 28 will work with all of our affected Teamster Locals to inform the members of their right to honor pickets and not make deliveries or pickups. We will also communicate with the members we have working at grocery distribution centers who also have the right to honor picket lines. Any picket line presence at these distribution centers may affect grocery distribution statewide.”
Geiger told Bloomberg BNA in July that the contracts also would cover various independent stores in the region that have signed a letter prior to bargaining essentially saying they will abide by the terms of a ratified contract. The contracts would cover workers in counties encompassing the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Everett and Bremerton. Kroger does business in the region through Fred Meyer and QFC stores.
In listing the unions' top concerns, Geiger told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 26 that a central problem was the chains' proposal to eliminate health care coverage for employees who work less than 30 hours a week (187 DLR A-7, 9/26/13). Geiger said the provision puts “essentially everyone's” health care benefits at risk. The company can “just determine how many hours everyone will work,” he said.