TALKS BEGIN ON COLORADO LABOR PACT

DENVER -- Supermarket employees here are seeking "across-the-board increases in everything" as negotiations between supermarket operators and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 here began on a new labor contract, according to Ernest Duran, president of the local.The union presented its proposal to Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger last month, and scheduled individual meetings with each of the

DENVER -- Supermarket employees here are seeking "across-the-board increases in everything" as negotiations between supermarket operators and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 here began on a new labor contract, according to Ernest Duran, president of the local.

The union presented its proposal to Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger last month, and scheduled individual meetings with each of the three on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. Among the changes the union is seeking is an increase in the number of full-time workers, Duran told SN. The union is also seeking expanded medical coverage for employees.

The current five-year contract expires on Sept. 11. It covers about 17,300 workers at 200 of the companies' stores in Colorado.

In other labor negotiations around the country:

Union leaders in Seattle and representatives from Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger "made progress" in their discussions of health benefits in contract negotiations, according to a statement from the companies. The contract was extended to this Wednesday, and negotiations are scheduled to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The talks, which have been led by a federal mediator since July 6, involve five UFCW locals representing about 25,000 employees. The original contract expired May 2.

In Connecticut, only a handful of union members at two of the three Adams Super Food Stores walked out and remained off the job a week after UFCW Local 137 went on strike. Brian Petronella, president of the local, told SN the union sent out 6,000 mailers to area consumers last week outlining its grievances. Joe Kelley, executive vice president of Adams, said employees came to the company and asked it to take out full-page newspaper ads a few days after the strike was called indicating they do not support it.

West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Shaws, a division of Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, and UFCW Local 791, which represents 6,400 Shaw's employees in 39 Massachusetts and Rhode Island Shaw's stores, were negotiating for a new contract with the help of a federal mediator late last week. The contract was set to expire Sunday.

Shaw's and the union were divided on health benefits and wages. According to Local 791 officials, management last week was proposing annual lump-sum bonuses of $800 for full-time employees and $200 for part-time employees, but no wage increases over the three-year proposal.

"From the union's standpoint, premium pay -- time-and-a-half on Sundays or holidays, and double-time -- is based off hourly wages. So wage increases create a higher wage standard for the union than bonuses," explained Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of New York-based consulting firm Strategic Resource Group.

According to Flickinger, Albertsons is "borrowing a page from A&P," which negotiated bonuses in a recent agreement with a local union. "But the union wants to stay with what's historically been done in New England: straight wage increases and pension increases," he said.

Flickinger also said the union may be gaining leverage by having several contracts in the West, including two large contracts in Northern California in addition to the Denver and Seattle pacts, either on extension or approaching expiration.

"The UFCW knows it's got tremendous economic power and wants to keep its workers working," he said. "At the same time, they know if they call another strike, it could bring the publicly held retailers to their knees economically."

The UFCW last week endorsed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, who have pledged to walk picket lines with striking workers.