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Grocery workers from seven United Food and Commercial Workers union locals representing 62,000 employees in Southern California voted over the weekend to ratify a new salary and benefits contract, avoiding a looming strike.
The deal took nearly eight months of contentious negotiations between UFCW leaders and negotiators from Supervalu-owned Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons.
The opposing sides were reportedly deadlocked over employer contributions for health care. The union alleged that management’s proposal didn’t guarantee that health care benefits will be covered for the duration of the new contract.
“We are pleased to reach an agreement that will continue to provide our associates the best total compensation package in our industry in Southern California,” Donna Giordano, president of Compton, Calif.-based Ralphs, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger in Cincinnati, said last week upon tentative acceptance of the new contract, jointly negotiated by the three chains. “The patience displayed by our associates during this process has been nothing short of remarkable.”
Union leaders said the new package “protects our members’ access to affordable comprehensive health care for themselves and their families.”
The new contract affects workers in a region that spans between Kern, Inyo and Mono counties to the north, the Mexican border to the south and the Arizona border to the east. The contract runs through March 2, 2014.
Another 28,000 employees at regional chains such as Stater Bros., Food 4 Less and Gelson’s are covered by the successful resolution of the Southern California contract. A contract covering 45,000 grocery workers in northern California expires next month.