News

Grocery workers settle on Plateau

Pierce County grocery workers pass contract by a 60 percent margin

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

Grocers and meat cutters in Bonney Lake and across Pierce County ratified a three-year labor contract last week, ending a four month dispute.

Grocery workers in King and Snohomish Counties, which included employees in Enumclaw, accepted their contract Aug. 15 with QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer and Albertsons.

United Food and Commercial Workers 367, representing Pierce County employees, walked out of negotiations Aug. 3 citing an "off the record" discussion as an unacceptable form of negotiation.

"After the other unions ratified the contract the federal mediator extended the offer to 367," according to Melinda Merrill, spokeswoman for the chains. "I think once Teresa (Iverson, president of local 367) looked at the contract she saw it was fair."

Members of UFCW 367 voted by a 60 percent margin Aug. 26 to ratify the contract after it was presented by leadership.

Bonney Lake Supermarket meat cutters, Fred Meyer check stand cashiers and some "me too" independent store employees rejected the contract on the first vote.

The check stand cashiers voted to ratify on Aug. 31, and Bonney Lake Supermarket meat cutters agreed to the contract Sept. 1. All the "me too" contracts had been reported as ratified by the Labor Day weekend except for Top Food.

While King and Snohomish counties union spokesman Dan Kully stated the new contract maintains affordable health care for the employees, Iverson was less satisfied, according to information posted on the union Web site.

"We believed it was in the best interest of the membership to see and vote this offer," Iverson wrote on the Web site. "While this has been a bitter pill to swallow for the membership, the companies were successful in their agenda to reduce their labor cost and shift much of the burden of health-care costs to the employees.

"The membership has made the decision to accept this new contract and we have pledged to them that we are committed to preparing for the future."

Both the stores and the unions stated controlling the spiraling costs of health-care benefits was the most important issue in the contract. The initial proposal put forward by the chains had employees paying 20 percent or more of their health benefits.

The basic details of the contract are the employees will now pay $7 per week for individual and $18 for family health benefits. The companies paid the entire cost of health-care benefits in the previous contract.

Doctor's office co-pays move from $10 to $20 and co-pays for medicine move up from $3-$5-$7 to $5-$20-$40.

Medical cost will be split 85 percent for the company and 15 percent for the employee with a $150 deductible.

New employees will receive no coverage for the first three months and employee-only coverage from four to nine months; family coverage begins to kick in at 10 months with full family coverage by 13 months.

Current employees have the option of a health maintenance organization, which would run $3 for individuals and $10 for family per week.

New employees will be under HMO coverage until 36 months when they may cross over to a preferred provider program.

The contract includes a 30 cents per hour raise in the first year for journeymen, a lump-sum bonus based on hours worked in the second year and another 30 cents per hour wage increase in the third year.

"The chains are pleased we could come to an agreement," Merrill said. "This is a contract that will help us stay competitive."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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