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The Contra Costa Times reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) wants to create some preemptive pressure on Northern California supermarket chains with which it will be negotiating a new contract, asking Bay Area consumers to pledge to boycott the chains if they demand significant cuts in health benefits.

"We want them to feel some pressure while we're bargaining,” said Ron Lind, a spokesman for a coalition of eight UFCW locals looking to solidify consumer opinion behind them. While the law prohibits calling for a boycott until the existing contract expires, the unions are handing out “boycott pledge cards” in a variety of locations.

Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling disagreed with the approach. "A contract can get negotiated without this sort of rancor," he told the paper. "A better use of time, we think, is sitting down and bargaining fairly and candidly and addressing the issues that impact the employers and our employees.”

Negotiations between labor and management are expected to begin later this month, and are expected to focus on the skyrocketing cost of health care benefits. It was this same issue that preoccupied negotiators during the four-month Southern California strike/lockout, which resulted in a tiered wage and benefit system for new employees. The Bay Area unions are hoping to avoid such a tiered system in their battle, though one can expect that a tiered system is one of the things at the top of management’s shopping list.

The current contract expires on September 11.
KC's View:
It was just last week that analysts were suggesting that because management and labor seemed to be able to resolve their differences more amicably in the Seattle area, it was possible that the folks in the San Francisco area might be willing to give peace a chance. Perhaps that was overly optimistic, considering that labor is already lining up boycott support.

The real problem here is that neither side has any reason to trust the other. Labor is convinced, with some justification, that management will go to great lengths to get what it wants, even endure a strike (though the chains may feel a little less enamored of that strategy now that they area dealing with the economic after-effects of the Southern California debacle). And management believes, with some justification, that labor is unwilling to take seriously the threat that Wal-Mart presents to their very existence.

We can’t imagine that there could be another strike. But we have a feeling that the Bay Area may be a little more contentious than Seattle was.