By Don McIntosh
At sites around Oregon and Southwest Washington Oct. 4-11, members of UFCW Local 555 voted to approve more than 90 individual collective bargaining agreements. Negotiated all together, they cover about 20,000 workers at the big grocery employers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, including Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons, and QFC.
The agreements were reached Sept. 28 after a six-day boycott of Fred Meyer that garnered significant local publicity and appeared to have an immediate and significant impact on Fred Meyer sales. Now that the agreement has been reached and ratified, Local 555 is calling on shoppers who formerly shopped at Fred Meyer to return.
The agreements run three years. For the first time, they guarantee at least 20 hours a week for workers who want the hours and are available to work them. That’s huge for some who’ve struggled to get more than 20 hours, which is the threshold where health and retirement benefits kick in. And because it removes employers’ economic incentive to limit work hours, the guarantee could result in workers getting fuller schedules generally.
The agreements also contain substantial wage increases. Most journeylevel workers will get hourly raises of $0.55 each year. [About half the workforce is journeylevel, having worked the equivalent of four years at full time.] And the mostly-female workers whose jobs are paid at the “Schedule B” wage scale will get hourly raises of $0.90 each year. During its campaign for a fair contract, Local 555 called on employers to address a gender pay disparity that stems from a tendency to place female applicants into the lower-paid and historically female-dominated deli and bakery departments that make up Schedule B. The new pay raises for Schedule B will move them one-third of the way to parity with Schedule A by the end of the three years. The new agreements also give Schedule B workers greater opportunity to bid into open Schedule A positions within their stores.
Apprentices, who typically start at $0.10 above minimum wage, will also see raises of up to $2 an hour under the contract: Whatever amount the local minimum wage increases, they’ll get the same amount, maintaining the premium they earn above minimum wage.
Workers’ next check will be big, because the first-year raises are retroactive to the previous contract expirations.
The agreement also makes slight improvements to dental and vision benefits, and adds a hearing aid benefit, with no increase in the member share of health premiums. Members typically contribute $10 a week.
Benefits are provided through a joint health trust which has built up reserves equal to about 20 months of operating expenses. To give employers a break, Local 555 agreed to reduce employer payments into the fund until the reserves reach six months.