Officials from the United Food and Commercial Workers union have agreed on a three-year labor contract with the Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons grocery store chains in Southern California.
The agreement comes after a Sunday evening deadline passed that would have allowed union leaders to tell more than 54,000 workers to begin striking at any time, The Associated Press reports.
The union and the three grocery chains were highly motivated to avert a strike. According to Reuters:
Parties to the latest talks were also involved in a bitter 141-day strike in Southern California that spanned 2003 and 2004. It was the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. grocery industry, costing an estimated $1.5 billion in lost sales to competitors and permanently shifting the loyalties of some shoppers.
Since that time, nonunion food sellers ranging from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Target Corp. have been chipping away at their overall market share. At the same time niche players, ranging from upscale grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. to ethnic chains and even dollar stores, have taken a bite.
On Monday, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons issued a joint statement, announcing that they were “pleased to have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the union that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable healthcare – while allowing us to be competitive in the marketplace."
While details of the agreement won’t be made public until union members ratify the contract, union officials declared in a statement that they were satisfied with the outcome. “We have attained our most important goal, which was continuing to provide comprehensive healthcare to the members and their families," union officials said.
The union and the grocery chains had argued for months over how much each side would have to pay in order to keep their health care trust fund economically viable for the short term, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the L.A. Times:
Under a recent offer from the employers, grocery workers would pay $9 a week for individual coverage and $23 a week for a family, company and union officials said.
The grocers had said these premiums were necessary to help offset the rising cost of healthcare. But union officials had said such premiums don’t come close to the level of revenue needed, because there are too few employees working too few hours. Instead, union officials argued, the employers need to pay more.
Union officials and the grocers see the contract a “win-win” for both sides, Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324 in Orange County, told the L.A. Times.
Union members are expected to vote on the contract this Friday and Saturday.