By ED FINKELSTEIN
Much to the relief of the entire community, grocery shopping continues as normal as members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 employed at Schnucks accepted a revised three-year contract proposal Oct. 26 by a 67 percent margin, 1020 “yes” against 507 “no.”
While the union negotiated a $1.50 an hour increase over three years, “92 cents of it went to pay the outrageously increasing cost of health care and pensions which doesn’t make anyone happy,” said Local 655 President David Cook.
Health benefits and pensions were a major issue for members in the union’s earlier 89 percent rejection of Schnuck’s first proposal.
The new contract, covering some 4,500 UFCW members at Schnucks, included substantial changes in many areas from wages to benefits. While the vote was only for Schnucks employees, Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save have agreed to accept the same economic package. Their employees will be voting on the contract within the next few weeks.
Straubs was not included in this pact, but will be extended the same economic package. Their contract expired Sept. 26.
“Your solidary in that vote made these changes possible,” Cook said, pointing out that while this contract did not achieve everything he would have liked to have seen, it was a major improvement over the initial offer, preventing, among other things, some 600 members from losing health care coverage.
Cook paid special tribute to Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for their invaluable assistance in the negotiations. “Without their help, we could not have gotten this contract done.” He offered special thanks to FMCS Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh and St. Louis Regional Director Barbara Rumph.
The new agreement, outlined in detail at the meeting by Secretary-Treasurer David Politte, who also fielded members’ questions, includes:
- Increases in wages, and a $600 and $300 bonus for full and part-time members respectively working at the top rates of pay in addition a total of at least a 50-cent an hour increases for all top rate employees in the second and third years of the pact. Some new wage increases began last Monday.
- Increases in health and welfare contributions to maintain coverage for all eligible full-time and eligible part-time workers and/or their families.
- Maintaining pension benefits for all.
- Increasing the number of hours an employee can put into a “health and welfare bank” to maintain their health coverage.
- Eliminating language from the rejected proposal that would have created a two-tier pension plan in the future.
- Maintaining Sunday and Holiday scheduling by seniority. In the rejected proposal managers would have been allowed to schedule whomever they wanted regardless of seniority.
- Increased paid vacation for part-time workers from the rejected proposal from two to three weeks.
- Changes in some health benefits that will require more employee financial participation and some benefits changes.
- And for the first time, benefit improvements for pharmacy technicians to include a higher starting pay scale and reimbursement for fees necessary to obtain required licenses and certifications.
“Our members deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices with a fair contract. The significant concessions from Schnucks shows they understood that and came back to the table with a much better contract,” Cook said in a joint press release with Schnucks Chairman and CEO Todd Schnuck.
Cook praised Schnucks as the major union food employer in the region and that the union and company are proud both of the quality services provided to customers as well as the on-going extensive community support offered in various ways by both the union and the company.
“For 77 years, our company – and our team of 14,500 hard-working men and women – have given our customers a special shopping experience and has been a source of good jobs and careers. We intend to continue those traditions for the next 77 years…and beyond,” Schnuck said.
THE WORLD WE LIVE IN
While Cook said he strongly supported, and urged, acceptance of the new proposal, and it also had the unanimous support of the rank-and-file Bargaining Committee, he candidly added: “It sickens me to have to present a contract that doesn’t move us substantially forward economically …but this is the world we are living in today,” noting a fact of life that groceries are now being sold on almost every corner by any number of non-union operations.
He pointed out, however, that the union, in this new much improved company proposal, did respond to the major issues brought up by the members at a series of pre-negotiations membership meetings designed to get members’ input on a new contract.
The agreement does not, however, impact the ongoing boycott of Schnucks by Teamsters Local 688 over the firings of over 200 union warehouse workers and replacing them with scabs.