ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 and a coalition of supermarket employers exchanged opening proposals for a new contract here last week, union officials said health care would become a divisive issue.
"I don't think our negotiations are going to be any different from any of the other ones across the country. The cost of health care, and how we blend that cost into the economics of the labor agreement, will be a major issue," Don Seaquist, president of Local 789, told SN.
Local 789 represents nearly 5,000 workers at more than 50 stores in St. Paul and surrounding suburbs including Cub Foods, Rainbow Foods, Lund's, Kowalski's, Coopers and other independents. Its three-year contract with employers expires March 5.
In opening proposals, the union sought increased employer contribution to the health and welfare fund, Seaquist said. Although the current union contract requires no contribution from members for health care premiums, a management-labor committee amended the agreement last year in response to depleted health care fund resources, including increasing employee co-pays for prescription drugs.
"Our position in negotiations is that our members are already paying for their health care when they use it," Seaquist said.
The employers' initial proposal said only that it sought to "discuss health care options" as well as eligibility, contribution and premium co-pays.
Employers proposed a number of changes regarding wages, hours and working conditions, and proposed to consolidate contracts for meat and grocery workers. Seaquist said the union had discussed proposing a combined contract, and that "if it doesn't involve changing a significant number of work rules," the union would not be opposed to it.
The same employers and UFCW Local 653 in Minneapolis last March worked out a new three-year agreement that combined grocery and meat contracts, Seaquist noted. That deal did not require workers to pay health care premiums and granted modest wage increases, but employers gained more flexibility regarding scheduling, holiday hours and vendor stocking, according to reports.