Economics, benefits of pacts same as those accepted by Schnucks employees
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Thanks to the bargaining efforts of UFCW Local 655 and the solidarity of its members, there is peace once again in the St. Louis grocery industry.
Last week, Local 655 members employed at Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save accepted three-year contract proposals, mirroring the revised pact Schnucks employees approved Oct. 26.
Dierbergs members voted 520-to-107 in favor of their contract, an 83 percent margin, and Shop ‘n Save employees approved their contract with a 170-to-72 vote, a 70 percent margin.
“In no way, shape or form is this everything we wanted, but it does represent significant improvements over the original proposal,” UFCW Local 655 President David Cook told members during last week’s contract meetings.
SOARING HEALTH CARE COSTS
While the contract includes a $1.50 an hour pay increase over three years, 92 cents of it went to pay the increasing cost of health and welfare and pension, a situation Cook said “we can’t fix ourselves.”
“It sickens me,” Cook said, referring to soaring healthcare costs. “I think we bargained a good contract, but we had to put it in benefits, and it’s just not right.”
Cook said he plans to lead a coalition of labor leaders to try to figure out how to curtail healthcare costs for St. Louis union members. He said he has commitments from all three grocers to sit down and talk about the problem.
HISTORY OF NEGOTIATIONS
Local 655 began negotiations on a new contract with Schnucks in April. Both Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save management representatives sat in on the negotiations, agreeing to accept the same contract economics and work conditions ultimately accepted by Schnucks employees.
In September, negotiations stalled, and Schnucks members were forced to vote on an inferior proposal, which would have resulted in significant cuts in health benefits, a reduction in the number of full-time jobs and no meaningful increase in wages. Schnucks employees overwhelmingly rejected the proposal and authorized a strike. The vote was 250 to accept the contract and 1,944 to reject and strike.
“That 89 percent strike vote changed the dynamics of bargaining, and things started to move,” Cook said.
Local 655 and Schnucks went back into negotiations and with the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, they were able to develop a significantly revised agreement. On Oct. 26, Schnucks members voted 1020 to 507 to accept the new contract.
The new agreement 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.
- 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.
- An increase in the number of hours an employee can put into a “health and welfare bank” to maintain their health coverage.
- Maintaining Sunday and holiday scheduling by seniority.
- Increased paid vacation for part-time workers.
- 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.
The three-year contract impacts about 4,500 UFCW members employed at Schnucks, 2,400 employed at Dierbergs and 1,800 employed at Shop ’n Save.