By Tanya Mannes / SignOnSanDiego / Sept 24, 2011 – updated 9:05 pm PDT
The United Food and Commercial Workers have voted to accept a contract offer from the “Big Three” grocery chains – Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons – ending the specter of a costly strike.
Employees in the San Diego region cast ballots Friday and other locals voted today, with an overall majority voting in favor of what their leaders described as a fair deal. The contract ends a two-tiered system in which new employees paid more for their health benefits.
In a statement, the union leaders said:
This package protects our members’ access to affordable comprehensive health care for themselves and their families. That was our top priority throughout the negotiating process. We owe our success to our members, who stood united and strong, and to all of our loyal customers who pledged their support for the workers.
As a matter of policy, the union does not release information on the number of votes for or against ratification. Mickey Kasparian, president of the UFCW Local 135 in San Diego, said that the contract was “overwhelmingly” approved by members in his district.
“The overwhelming acceptance vote by the workers is the product of protecting their health benefits and retirement through their strength, courage and solidarity,” Kasparian said. “I am honored to represent them.”
The contract will expire in March 2014. Under the new deal, each worker will pay up to $15 a week for health benefits, with the rest being covered by the employer. Workers make about $8 to $19 per hour and the contract deal also includes some raises and bonuses.
This weekend’s vote involving 62,000 grocery workers across Southern California is the culmination of eight months of sometimes heated negotiations. In recent weeks, the union leaders were close to calling a strike and the grocery chains were threatening to close some stores if workers walked off the job.
In the final few weeks, the chains sweetened their offer, adding $199 million to their initial proposal for health benefits funding over three years. The final negotiating session lasted nearly 24 hours straight.
Retail analysts warned that a strike would have been more damaging to the companies than the last one eight years ago, in part because the chains could lose customers permanently to nonunion stores such as Fresh & Easy.