UFCW grocery workers ratify more contracts

Some 14,000 grocery workers, meatcutters and central checkout clerks at major supermarkets in Oregon and Southwest Washington have wrapped up voting on new three-year collective bargaining agreements.

Workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. A 45-member Unity Bargaining Committee has been in negotiations for more than 22 months with Allied Employers Inc., a Kirkland, Washington-based firm that represents Fred Meyer and QFC (Kroger), Albertsons, and Safeway at the bargaining table.

It is the first time in the union’s history that contracts from each geographic region within its jurisdiction — from Klamath Falls, Oregon, to Longview, Washington — were bargained simultaneously.

Voting began in early February and wrapped up Feb. 20 with the ratification of contracts in Klamath Falls, Tillamook, and Longview.

The union had scheduled a series of strike vote meetings for the month of February because employers had moved very little on their demands to increase the minimum waiting time to receive full health care coverage; to double the maximum out-of-pocket costs for family health insurance to $12,000; and to  schedule workers seven days a week without any days off or having to pay overtime, effectively eliminating the five-day work week.

The possibility of strike pushed the employer group to engage in a four-day, 68-hour marathon bargaining session starting Jan. 29. Those talks resulted in an offer the union was willing to take to its membership for a vote.

“This was some of the toughest bargaining in bad times that I’ve ever seen,” Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson told the Labor Press earlier this month. Anderson is a 36-year member of the union.

As was reported in the Feb. 15 edition of the Labor Press, employers agreed to merge the Portland area medical plan with the Joint Labor Management Retail Trust. JLMRT covers employees from Salem to the California border, in Central Oregon, in far Eastern Oregon, and in Southwest Washington.

Employers will increase funding for medical insurance by 14.87 percent; JLMRT members will see their Level 3 benefits improve, with deductibles reduced from $500 to $300 and annual out-of-pocket costs reduced from $5,000 to $3,000. After annual deductibles are met, the plan will pay 85 percent of the bill, a 10 percent increase from the previous contract.

Contract expiration dates also were altered so that Portland will lead off in the next round of bargaining starting in June 2015. The union wanted its largest group to be first out of the blocks because it provides more power at the bargaining table. In the past, the Portland unit bargained toward the end, after smaller contracts downstate had been completed. Additionally, the time span between when the first and last contracts expire was narrowed from 30 months to 16 months.

On the downside, workers will get a raise of 25 cents an hour over three years; it will take new hires more hours to reach journey-level status; and they won’t be paid time-and-a-half when working holidays.

Anderson said it was probably the best the bargaining committee was going to get, short of a strike.

Here is a list of the ratified contracts and their expiration dates:

Portland area, June 2015; Bend, July 2015; Newberg, September 2015; Vancouver area, December 2015; Burns, December 2015; Klamath Falls, December 2015 (includes Sherms; Longview/Cowlitz County, January 2016; Roseburg, January 2016 (includes Sherms); Medford, January 2016; Grants Pass, January 2016; Eugene, February 2016; Brookings, February 2016 (includes McKay’s Meat); The Dalles/ Hood River, June 2016; McMinnville Meat, August 2016; Lincoln City/Newport, August 2016; Salem and Albany, August, 2016; Florence, October 2016; North Bend/Coos Bay, October 2016; and Tillamook/Astoria, November, 2016,

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