WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Two Northern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have launched a strike against Raley’s Supermarkets  here, citing management’s decision last week to unilaterally implement a new contract.
Raley’s said on the first day of the strike nearly half of its union employees were crossing picket lines and coming to work.
It also said it was keeping its stores open and operating “while getting product to the stores.”
Two days’ worth of negotiations between the union and the chain — in the presence of a federal mediator, Greg Lim — broke down over the weekend, prompting UFCW Local 5 and Local 8-Golden State to call for a strike at midnight Nov. 4 at Raley’s and its Nob Hill subsidiary.
The union said the strike has the support of the UFCW International and a variety of other unions.
The main issues in the dispute, according to the union, are “Raley’s insistence to diminish workers’ ability to provide their families with health care; the refusal to fund retiree medical benefits; and the demand that workers give up their right to Sunday and premium pay.
“The employer’s demand to shift workers into a company health care scheme over which the employer has complete controls will have disastrous consequences,” Mike Henneberry, a spokesman for Local 5, said. “Under such a plan, workers would have no control over deductibles, copays and, in fact, whether or not a plan will exist at all in the future.”
The contract that’s up for renewal expired in October 2011. The strike, which was authorized by Raley’s and Nob Hill workers last spring in response to an earlier offer, was ultimately called following the chain’s announcement that it would implement a new contract after the union declined to allow members to vote on the “last and final” offer it proposed about a month ago.
Read more: Raley's Plans to Implement New Contract 
“It is unfortunate that after 15 months of talks and nearly 60 negotiation sessions, we were not able to agree on a new contract, since it is clearly understood we must reduce our operating costs to become more competitive against non-union retailers,” Michael Teel, president and chief executive officer, said in an online letter to employees Sunday.
“We are asking you to please not strike until the union allows you to vote on our contract offer. The union demand that you strike while not allowing you to vote makes no sense, as it is denying you your right to vote.”
The UFCW said that, because Raley’s was unlawfully threatening to implement changes to its collective bargaining agreements, union attorneys have filed charges of unfair labor practices against the chain, charging Raley’s with circumventing the union’s authority as a bargaining agent; violating laws prohibiting harassment and intimidation of union members; and accusing it of “regressive bargaining,” which it defined as submitting proposals that were worse than previous offers.
According to Raley’s, the contract it wants to implement runs for three years, with a two-year wage freeze and a wage re-opener in the third year; it also eliminates Sunday and holiday premiums — terms already imposed at Raley’s non-union stores, Teel noted.
In contrast with a contract covering Save Mart  employees, the Raley’s contract does not eliminate one week of paid vacation nor four paid holidays, he pointed out.
The contract also provides employees with the same health and welfare plan as other union employees at Raley’s, including maintenance of current benefits for two years; a pre-65 retiree health and welfare component; a sick-leave plan; and a re-opener after two years.
“By implementing this new health care plan and eliminating Sunday and holiday premiums, we gain the savings we need to compete in the future,” Teel explained.
In a letter last week to union employees, Teel said, “Know that Raley’s did not want to implement our final offer. But if the union is not going to allow you to vote, we cannot continue to suffer economic harm and be forced to close more stores.”
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Henneberry told SN the chain’s “last and final” offer was worse than the previous offer. “It was so regressive that we did not want to ask the members to vote on it,” he explained.
Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW Local 8, said the contract Raley’s wants to implement “imposes unacceptable concessions on its union workers.”
Safeway , Pleasanton, Calif., is continuing to talk with the union about a new contract.
Employees at Modesto, Calif.-based Save Mart represented by UFCW Local 8 approved a new agreement during the summer, while the executive board of UFCW Local 5 opted to ratify the same agreement on its own in early September on behalf of the Save Mart workers it represents.
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