Striking supermarket workers in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky ratified a new contract Thursday that caps their employer's annual contribution to the union's health-care plan.
The contract fight between Kroger Co. and the United Food and Commercial Workers union bears a similarity to the current labor dispute in Southern and Central California. In both cases, disagreements centered on employee contributions to health insurance.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 13, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Grocery pact -- An article in Friday's Business section incorrectly said the top pay for Kroger Co. workers in three Eastern states would be $11.26 an hour under a new contract. The top pay would be $11.76.
Kroger, which owns the Ralphs chain in California, agreed to pay up to 8% more annually into the union's health-care fund. A joint company-union committee would review the contributions annually and could mandate additional contributions but only up to a limit.
In California, such health-care cost increases have in the past been fully covered by the major supermarket chains -- Ralphs, Albertsons Inc. and the Vons and Pavilions unit of Safeway Inc.
UFCW leaders in California are fighting a cap on increases in employer health-care contributions, asking the three chains to continue to fully fund the plan.
The stores have countered by agreeing to increase their contributions for medical insurance by up to 6.9% annually in the three-year deal.
A UFCW spokesman called the deal struck with Kroger in the East a victory, noting that union supermarkets face strong competition from lower-priced, nonunion retailers in those states.
"In the worst possible competitive situation, they reached an agreement for adequate medical coverage," said Greg Denier, the union spokesman. "Why can't they do it in a market like Southern California where the chains dominate the market?"
The agreement covers 3,300 UFCW members in 44 stores in the three states. It does not affect Kroger's labor disputes in Southern California and Indiana.
"We are happy that an agreement was reached," said Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes. "Both sides were able to address the important issues and reach an agreement that will still enable Kroger to compete against lower-cost operators like Wal-Mart."
The Eastern states workers have medical benefits similar to those of workers in Southern California, including no out-of-pocket expenses for insurance premiums. The deal ratified Thursday did not include a two-tier system, in which new workers are hired on a lower pay and benefits scale, as has been proposed in California.
The pact calls for two 25-cent hourly pay increases for full-time workers, bringing them to a maximum pay of $11.26 an hour, and two lump-sum bonuses during the term of up to $500 each.
Full- and part-time workers in Southern California would not receive salary increases in the supermarkets' latest proposal to union workers. Under the last contract, clerks in Southern California could earn up to $17.90 an hour.
About 70,000 workers are on strike or have been locked out of their stores in Southern and Central California since contract talks broke down Oct. 11.