UFCW Local 555 wraps Portland area meat and grocery contracts early

PORTLAND, OR -- Some 4,500 Portland area grocery, deli and bakery clerks and meatcutters represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 ratified new three-year collective bargaining agreements last month by a majority of 95 percent.

The contracts -- which run from July 20, 1997 through July 22, 2000 -- provide wage and benefit increases for employees at more than 100 stores, including Albertsons, Kienow's, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Hank's Thriftway, Danielson's Thriftway, The Market Basket and several smaller independent grocers.

Cashiers (central checkout clerks or CCKs) at Fred Meyer remain without a new contract because they rejected their proposal by an 85 percent majority.

"It's the first time we've ever settled a Portland grocery-meat contract without the threat of a strike, without an 11th-hour settlement or going past its expiration," said Gene Pronovost, president of Local 555.

Grocery clerks and meatcutters were on strike or locked out for 87 days in 1994 and 23 days in 1990. "I think we owe a lot (for the early settlement) to the strike in 1994," Pronovost said, explaining that employers wanted to heal the wounds of the past and "start off on the right foot" with the new administration of the union.

Pronovost was elected president of Oregon's largest private-sector union last year, succeeding Ken MacKillop, who retired. Ed Clay was elected secretary-treasurer, succeeding Kathy Morris, who did not seek re-election.

"I think the membership is extremely relieved to have this behind them. I know it's the first time in my 20 years in the labor movement that I've received thank-you letters and faxes for a settlement," Pronovost said.

Following the1994 Portland strike Food Employers Inc., which represents grocers in contract negotiations, disbanded outside the Portland area. This forced the union to negotiate separately with the different union grocers in other parts of the state.

Food Employers Inc. offered to bargain as a group for the Portland contract, provided it was ratified by April 16. After that date, it threatened to disband again and go back to bargaining separate contracts.

As soon as tentative contracts were reached on grocery and meat, Local 555 and Fred Meyer decided to propose a package to the CCK bargaining unit, even though formal talks had not yet begun. CCK is not part of the multi-employer group.

"Fred Meyer's CCK was a little light on pension and wages, enough for them to reject it," Pronovost said. The CCK contract expires July 1.

The new agreement provides journeyman meatcutters with wage increases of 35 cents an hour in each of the three years, taking their top wage to $16.44 an hour. Pension benefits were increased substantially using a formula that is retroactive to 1975. And, for the first time, meatcutters can retire with full pension benefits at age 55 if they have 30 years' service. "It's the first meat contract in the Pacific Northwest with the 'Rule of 85,' concept (age and service equalling 85)," said Pronovost.

Journeyman grocery clerks will see hourly pay raises of 30 cents in each of the three years, taking the top wage to $14 an hour. Pension benefits will increase by as much as 40 percent, retroactive to 1981 for continuous years of service. Preventive care (flu shots, mammograms, etc.) was added to the health coverage plan and will be maintained for the life of the agreement, and employees who leave the job can extend medical, dental and vision benefits coverage for two months. Also, time-loss benefits were increased from $140 to $200 a week. New hires will be eligible for dental and vision benefits after four months of eligibility (an improvement of two months) while wage scales were increased "thanks to the minimum wage bill passed by voters last November," Pronovost said.

It should be noted that Albertsons stores in Sherwood and on Sunnyside Road in Clackamas are non-union, as are the King City Safeway and Fred Meyer Hillsboro grocery and CCK.

Meatcutters at the Hillsboro Fred Meyer and King City Safeway stores are members of Local 555 and are part of the new contract.

Local 555 also is still negotiating contracts with Albertsons and Danielson's Thriftway in Vancouver.

Additionally, at the end of the contract all clerks -- grocery, bakery and deli -- will be at the same level for pension contributions.


May 2, 1997 issue

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