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Southern California grocery labor talks hit latest snag: healthcare

May 18, 2011 |  5:04 pm

Grocery Labor Strike Vote
The Southern California grocery labor talks apparently aren't going well -- still.

On Wednesday, the region’s major grocery chains said they have presented the union representing 62,000 of their workers with an initial proposal for changes to their healthcare coverage -- a proposal the retailers call “reasonable” and union officials describe as “gutting.”

Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons declined to discuss the proposal in detail on Wednesday. But according to a statement from the three retailers, the health and welfare proposal offers their workers “an excellent healthcare plan that allows them to receive comprehensive coverage for themselves and their families.”

“Although the proposal makes some changes to the current health and welfare plan, employees would pay as little as $9 a week for coverage, receive coverage if they work just 16 hours per week depending on their job,” according to the statement.

But officials of the United Food and Commercial Workers countered that the retailers are pushing to shift as much as 80% of the medical costs to the workers.

“Management has refused to compromise on providing health benefits, instead creating a plan that mirrors that of corporate healthcare villain Wal-Mart: expensive and ineffective enough that no employee participates,” said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles.

He added: “Instead of being good corporate citizens and partners in the health of our society, management is instead destroying their employees’ healthcare and risking another grocery strike to marginally increase their profits by 3%.”

The labor negotiations are ongoing. A federal mediator has been meeting with both sides since being brought in last month.

The negotiators are trying to replace a four-year contract that was set to expire March 6 but is now being extended day to day. The contract covers supermarket checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other unionized employees of Ralphs, which is owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

--P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770, greets members of the union at a strike-authorization  vote at the Pickwick Center in Burbank in April.  Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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