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The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that negotiators for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Southern California’s three biggest supermarket chains – Albertsons, owned by Supervalu; Ralphs, owned by Kroger; and Vons, owned by Safeway – have come to a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract that should, if ratified by unionized employees, prevent a strike and/or lockout.

A ratification vote is slated to take place on Sunday. The accord was reached after nine straight days of marathon bargaining, and replaces a series of extensions that kept workers in the stores even after their previous contract expired on March 5.

According to the Times, “The accord would make up some of the ground the United Food and Commercial Workers union lost in a bitter, lengthy walkout and lockout 3 1/2 years ago.” Spokesmen for the UFCW and local labor analysts are saying at this point that “the proposed contract looked like a win for the UFCW, which was considered to have lost the 141-day work stoppage in 2003-04,” according to the Times. Management is not yet commenting on a structure of the new agreement.

The Times reports: “People familiar with the pact said it would give workers their first scheduled raises since 2002. It also would raise the top wage rate and make all employees — not just veterans — eligible to reach it.

“The contract would slash the amount of time newer workers would have to wait to get health insurance to six months from as long as 18 months, the sources said. The health-insurance waiting period for children of newer workers would shrink to six months from 30 months.”
KC's View:
Based on everything that Safeway CEO Steve Burd has said about the need to change the structure of health benefits, I’m still waiting to see not just the timing of when they kick in, but what the benefits are and if they encourage individual responsibility for one’s own health maintenance.

However, even if the UFCW did get the upper hand this time, the agreement has to be considered a win for the chains, which no longer will have to deal with the threat of a work stoppage as they prepare for Tesco’s entry into the Southern California market later this year.