February 27, 2004
Supermarkets, Union Reach Tentative Pact
By CHARLIE LeDUFF and STEVEN GREENHOUSE
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 26 Supermarket executives and union
leaders involved in a four-and-a-half month-old labor dispute in
Southern California reached a tentative agreement last night after 16
days of intense bargaining, union leaders said.
Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and with
California's three largest grocery chains reached the deal which is
expected to end a dispute involving 59,000 striking or locked-out
workers at 852 supermarkets.
Greg Denier, a spokesman for the union, declined to disclose details
about the settlement.
The dispute, which is one of the largest labor disputes in the nation
in years, has inconvenienced millions of shoppers, created great
financial pain for union members and caused the three supermarket
chains to lose more than $2 billion in sales.
The dispute involves Albertsons, Kroger, which owns the Ralphs grocery
chain, and Safeway, which owns the Vons and Pavilions grocery chains.
Peter Hurgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation
Service, has met with the two sides and repeatedly pushed them to reach
a deal. The dispute has become a huge cause for all of organized labor,
and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the front-runner in the
Democratic presidential campaign, walked yesterday alongside strikers
at a Vons supermarket in Santa Monica.
Vons and Pavilions workers went on strike on Oct. 11 when the union
resisted management's demands to create a lower wage tier and a reduced
health benefit plan for new employees and to cap the companies' health
contributions for current workers. To show solidarity with Safeway,
Albertsons and Ralphs locked out their workers the next day.
Officials knowledgeable about the negotiations said the union had
agreed to a lower wage tier for new workers. These officials said that
the companies had pressured the union into agreeing to have newly hired
workers pay some weekly premiums for their health insurance, which is a
departure from the policy with current workers, who pay no premium. In
addition, these officials said, the union agreed in large part to the
companies' demand to freeze their contributions to the health plan for
current workers. But these officials said the union achieved its
objective of persuading the companies to set aside their demand for a
separate health and pension fund for future employees.
The union was under intense pressure to settle because its members were
feeling so financially battered by the dispute and because the union
and its Southern California locals were financially weakened by the
tens of millions of dollars spent to finance strike benefits.
Charlie LeDuff reported from Los Angeles, and Steven
Greenhouse from New York.