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Union Sues Over Health-Care Fund

The latest lawsuits seek to compel the major grocery chains to continue making monthly contributions.

October 30, 2003|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

The United Food and Commercial Workers union filed two more lawsuits against the major supermarket chains Wednesday, this time in an attempt to force the companies to continue funding the employee health-care plan.

The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claim the health trust fund that provides medical coverage for about 200,000 union employees, dependents and retirees could go bankrupt by mid-December unless the chains continue to make monthly contributions.

The markets made their scheduled $40-million payment into the fund on Oct. 20, but said they would not make November or December payments, union attorneys said.

Albertsons spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld said the company had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment. Representatives of the two other chains could not be reached.

Los Angeles Times Saturday December 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Supermarket strike -- In its coverage of the supermarket strike and lockout that began Oct. 11, The Times has said repeatedly that the labor dispute affected 859 union grocery stores in Southern and Central California. In fact, 852 stores are affected.

The fund covers employees at some union grocers that are not involved in the strike, including Gelsons and Stater Bros.

On Oct. 11, the United Food and Commercial Workers union launched a strike against Vons and Pavilions stores, both owned by Safeway Inc. The next day, Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs stores locked out their union employees in a show of solidarity. In all, 70,000 workers at 859 stores throughout Southern California and parts of Central California are affected.

No negotiations have been held since the strike began, and none are scheduled.

The lawsuits say striking and locked-out workers earned health coverage through the end of December by working during the summer months. Some also worked enough hours in September and early October to qualify for another quarter-year of benefits, through the end of March.

After their employer-paid coverage expires, federal law provides that striking and locked workers could still buy coverage comparable to their current plan at $360 a month, UFCW officials said.

One lawsuit cites obligations under the labor contract and asks the court to force the markets to contribute. Another suit cites federal laws on insurance coverage and seeks emergency binding arbitration.

Last month, the union sued the three chains for what it said were unpaid wages to locked out workers.

Meanwhile, Albertsons is seeking a preliminary injunction to restrict or eliminate pickets at its stores. The chain sought a temporary restraining order in Santa Ana Superior Court last week but was turned down. The judge set a Nov. 12 preliminary hearing for an injunction.

A California law that went into effect in January raises the bar for employers to win such injunctions. The chain must show a threat of irreparable harm or injury from the pickets, and prove that police have been unable to control them.

"To me," said Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles, one of seven union locals involved in the dispute, "this just indicates desperation on their part."


On February 12, 2004 the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which had stated repeatedly that 70,000 workers were involved in the supermarket labor dispute in Central and Southern California, said that the number of people on strike or locked out was actually 59,000. A union spokeswoman, Barbara Maynard, said that 70,000 UFCW members were, in fact, covered by the labor contract with supermarkets that expired last year. But 11,000 of them worked for Stater Bros. Holdings Inc., Arden Group Inc.'s Gelson's and other regional grocery companies and were still on the job. (See: "UFCW Revises Number of Workers in Labor Dispute," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2004, Business C-11)

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