Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SoCal Grocers Look For Another Bite Of the Apple

Three years ago the unionized grocery chains in southern California took a two-billion dollar loss in sales during a 4½ month lockout/strike. It was well worth it. They bloodied the UFCW’s nose, extracting numerous take-backs, creating a multi-tiered system of wages and benefits. (For what we wrote about the settlement at the time click here.) Later, a similar, though a bit less draconian contract was obtained without a work stoppage in northern California.

The concessions have been particularly hard in the area of health care. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports on a university study that found that of the employees hired during the life of the current southern California contract, called “second tier,” only 29 percent are eligible for health insurance and only seven percent actually have it.

Even some senior workers, who have a much better plan than the newcomers have dropped coverage. In September 2003, under the previous contract, 96 percent of union members in the north were enrolled, 94 percent in the south. Today that has fallen to 79 percent in the north and only 52 percent in the south.

Now negotiations are about to begin for a new contract in southern California. Last time around the bosses claimed they needed give-backs to be competitive with Wal-Mart. Now they are raising the specter of British based Tesco’s plans to enter the market with hundreds of new stores in California, Nevada, and Arizona. Look for another tough fight.

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