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DENVER – After a week's "cooling-off" period, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and top-ranked Colorado supermarket chains King Soopers, Safeway, and Albertsons resumed contract negotiations yesterday. A last-minute contract extension two weeks ago has given both sides until Oct. 16 to work out their differences.
A federal mediator brokered both the extension and the "cooling-off" period. During that time both sides were supposed to provide cost benefits information, but according to UFCW Local 7 spokesman Dave Minshall during a telephone interview with Progressive Grocer, "We exchanged and they didn't," despite the union's attempts to contact the retailers' corporate insurance experts. PG's calls to the grocers were not returned.
The main bones of contention are health care and wages, but both sides have said that they hope to come to an agreement and avoid a strike.
Workers voted yesterday to start negotiating with the grocers collectively instead of separately, as they have up until now, but according to late word from the union, the grocers turned down the proposal. The federal mediator requested the change as a way to save time during the negotiations. So far the contracts proposed by the retailers have been virtually the same. As Minshall pointed out, however, although the idea is that the union would bargain simultaneously with all three companies, there would be three separate contracts.
Talks are slated for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in the weeks leading up to the deadline, with extra sessions to be scheduled if necessary.
When asked what the union's outlook was on the probability of reaching a settlement, Minshall replied, "Things are not off to a very good start. We did our part –- we're ready to get on with [negotiations]."
UFCW Local 7, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo., represents 17,300 Colorado grocery workers.