COLORADO UNION, CHAINS SEEK CHANGES IN CONTRACT PARAMETERS

DENVER -- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 here last week proposed a new health care plan, which it said could save the supermarket chains about $21 million per year.In an interview with SN, Ernest Duran, president of the local, said the proposed changes would involve switching to a different insurance carrier and a new type of plan as part of a new contract to replace the current one that

DENVER -- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 here last week proposed a new health care plan, which it said could save the supermarket chains about $21 million per year.

In an interview with SN, Ernest Duran, president of the local, said the proposed changes would involve switching to a different insurance carrier and a new type of plan as part of a new contract to replace the current one that expires on Sept. 11.

"There would not be any reduction in worker benefits," Duran said. "What is different is the discount we would receive."

He said he was going to press for more comprehensive coverage, including insurance-paid birth control, mammograms and prostate cancer screenings. "We believe that we can save money in the long run by paying for those types of things up front," he said.

Unlike in other recent and ongoing talks in other parts of the country, the union in Colorado is negotiating with the three chains individually rather than collectively. The union had its first round of meetings with Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger-owned King Soopers earlier this month, with additional meetings scheduled with Safeway late last week and with King Soopers and Albertsons this week. Talks with Kroger and Safeway concerning their warehouse workers in the area are scheduled for this Friday.

The three companies have submitted proposals for changes in work rules, but have not yet submitted their plans to modify the wage structure or the health care plan, the latter of which both sides reportedly said would be a critical component of the negotiations in an environment of rising health care costs.

Duran said the workers' pension fund is fully funded. In addition to the changes in the health care plan, Duran said he would propose a 20% increase in the number of full-time positions at the stores.

Representatives from Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons could not be reached for comment last week.

According to information posted on the Web site of UFCW Local 7, the chains have proposed more flexible work rules that would allow workers to perform additional tasks. In addition, the chains have proposed ending premium pay for working Sundays for new hires and have suggested alterations to the schedule for paid holidays.

Duran said he was hopeful the chains would offer their proposals for a revamped health care plan by this week.