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    Grocery Workers in Ohio Reach Tentative Deal

    CANTON, Ohio -- Unionized grocery store workers here will vote over the next two weeks on a tentative contract with the owners of five grocery store chains doing business in Northeast Ohio.

    CANTON, Ohio -- Unionized grocery store workers here will vote over the next two weeks on a tentative contract with the owners of five grocery store chains doing business in Northeast Ohio.

    The old contract between the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880 and Fishers Foods, Giant Eagle, R.W. Albrecht (Acme), Tops, and Heinen's expired Sept. 11, 2005, and affects some 14,000 workers in 150 stores, according to a negotiator for the companies. If approved, the new three-year pact, which calls for raises in the second and third years, would expire Sept. 11, 2008.

    A union negotiator said the local has also agreed to substantial increases in the pension program -- retroactive to last September -- in view of the funding problems pension programs have had across the country in recent years.

    Although rising health-care costs prompted the chains to ask for contributions from employees for the first time, the union prevailed with that issue.

    A federal mediator worked with the parties from the start to reach the agreements.

    "The negotiations were drawn out due to the serious problems faced by both sides in areas such as health care and pensions, and especially the competitive climate," said Frank Buck, chief negotiator for the five chains. "We have more and more new stores moving into a declining market, spreading out the sales dollars."

    Although negotiations took a long time, Tom Robertson, UFCW Local 880 president, said: "In the end, we succeeded in changing the employers' minds regarding the core issues that concerned our membership -- wages, health care, and pensions. Although the negotiations were difficult, we succeeded in each of those areas."

    However, said Buck, "The union recognized our need to compete by cutting back on contractual restrictions and allowing greater operational flexibility in areas such as scheduling and vendor stocking."

    The tentative agreement is now subject to ratification by the union's membership. Voting will be conducted in the stores and is expected to be completed within two weeks. "The union is strongly recommending these agreements," said Robertson, who called it a fair agreement that address our key concerns and help our employers compete in a difficult marketplace."

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