LOS ANGELES — Negotiations between seven Southern California labor union locals and five chains are scheduled to continue beyond this Thursday, the date through which the contracts had previously been extended, representatives for both sides told SN last week.
The contracts, which cover approximately 62,000 clerks and meat cutters, expired March 6. If there is no agreement by March 31, the contracts will automatically be extended on a day-to-day basis, with either side able to cancel with 72 hours' notice.
Meetings are scheduled three days a week through April 14, according to a website for employees of Safeway-owned Vons. The site said the negotiations “have been open and direct but also professional.”
The seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union were scheduled to meet last Thursday and Friday with representatives of Vons, Supervalu-owned Albertsons and Kroger-owned Ralphs, who are negotiating as a group.
Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324, said the union will also continue meeting with representatives of Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., and Gelson's Markets, Encino, Calif., between bargaining sessions with the three larger operators. Although both chains usually agree to accept whatever terms the three majors negotiate, “both Stater and Gelson's have their own issues this time around, designed to make them more competitive, so they are each negotiating separately and seeking their own contract terms,” Conger said.
He declined to pinpoint those issues.
Daymond Rice, director of public affairs and government relations for Vons, told SN the issues being discussed are complex, “and these subjects simply take time to work through.”
Regarding health benefits, the Vons website said negotiators have spent extended periods discussing “some new and innovative ways we believe can be a significant part of finding a way to maintain your medical benefits while also reining in the rapidly escalating costs of the medical program so that it can be sustained for the long term.
“Based on these discussions, the parties agreed to work with their respective health and welfare advisors and consultants to see if further progress can be made.”
Conger said the Pension Protection Act of 2006 has made discussions of pension costs more difficult. “We have to jump through hoops to comply,” he noted, “because instead of amortizing the investment over 30 years, it now must be amortized over seven years, and it's close to impossible to get your pension plan into the green zone in just seven years with the way Wall Street is today.
“We haven't even gotten to discussing wages yet,” he added.