UFCW Local 555 wraps up grocery contracts early

Grocery clerks and meat cutters in Clark County, Washington, - members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 - overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year contract that union officials described as "the best contract in recent memory."

The collective bargaining agreement is so good that union members in the Portland metropolitan area have been presented with a similar offer, which they voted on Feb. 2 (after this issue of the NW Labor Press went to press). The Portland area contract doesn't expire until July 23.

"It's a great contract; we're very pleased," said Local 555 spokeswoman Teresa Pronovost.

The contract covering approximately 1,200 grocery clerks, meat cutters and central checkout cashiers calls for wage hikes of 40 cents in each of the three years of the contract, plus full maintenance of benefits.

"Health insurance was a big issue going into negotiations and was one of the key components of this settlement," Pronovost said, noting that in some instances premiums have more than doubled in price since the last contract. "Employers tried hard to implement a co-payment system, but we were able to maintain full maintenance of benefits (employers picking up the cost of premiums)."

Grocery employees also saw boosts in pension contributions as well as other improvements in the retirement plan, which will allow retirees to participate in the health and welfare program at an earlier age. Previously, employees had to be 65 years old to be eligible for benefits, Pronovost said.

A nearly identical package was presented to some 8,000 Portland area grocery workers under the auspices of Food Employers Inc. In Clark County, grocers bargained separately, although negotiations with each of the employers took place simultaneously.

Bargaining unit members are employed at Clark County Fred Meyer stores, Albertson's, Safeway and several independent grocers. The contract does not include non-food employees.

With the contract settlement, unionized meat cutters in Clark County saw their pay increase to $16.84 an hour. It will top out at $17.64 in December 2001.

Grocery clerks pay jumped to $14 an hour and will top out at $15.20, while central checkout (at Fred Meyer) pay goes to $11.80 an hour and peaks to $13 an hour in December 2001.

If Portland area grocery workers ratify their contract, meat cutters and central checkout wages' will parallel the Clark County package while grocery clerks will see their wages go to $14.35 an hour in July and top out at $15.55 the third year of the contract.

Pronovost said "Schedule B" departments, which include unionized deli clerks, fish counter and butcher block employees, also will get pay increases and that unionized non-food workers will benefit under the maintenance of benefits program.

And just a reminder - not all stores operate under union contracts. Pronovost said that the Fisher's Landing Fred Meyer store in Vancouver is non-union and that Local 555 is working to organize the Salmon Creek Fred Meyer store, where a successful card check was held recently in the grocery and central checkout departments.

Organizing drives also are under way at Albertson's stores in West Linn, Sherwood, on Barrows Road in Hillsboro, grocery only at Sunnyside, and meat only at Medford.

February 4, 2000 issue

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