Grocery strike possible |

Grocery strike possible

Western Nevada County residents who do their heavy grocery shopping on weekends might want to fill up their carts earlier this week.

A contract covering 19,000 unionized grocery workers in 335 stores from Modesto to the Oregon border expires at the end of Saturday, but neither side has said what it will do if the deadline passes without a new agreement.

Grocery store chains in Nevada County covered by the contract include Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger, which operates Ralphs in this area.

Raley’s is also involved in the negotiations, but its Grass Valley store is not unionized. SPD Markets’ contract doesn’t expire for another year, a spokeswoman said. Grocery Outlet in Grass Valley is nonunion.

A spokesman for the region’s major grocer union said Tuesday a strike could be avoided if both sides agree to extend the current contract beyond the expiration date. Union members will vote on management’s final offer, with a simple majority required for approval. A vote of two-thirds or more to reject the proposal authorizes union leaders to call a strike.

The current contract with Local 588 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union expires less than five months after the end of a 139-day strike and lockout of nearly 70,000 grocery clerks in Southern California. In the end, the grocery chains lost millions of dollars, and the workers agreed to increased health care costs and a two-tier pay system.

While neither side will discuss the specifics of the current negotiations, there are indications that management is seeking similar concessions in Northern California.

Jack Loveall, president of Local 588, reports on the union’s Web site that health care is a major issue and that the union is fighting for a contract “that is free of the divisiveness of a two-tier system.”

Loveall didn’t reveal the union’s strategy regarding a strike, except to say it will be “unpredictable and untraditional … but we know that if we have to fight, we will. Withholding our labor is our last, final and most effective leverage.”

Members of Local 588 make from $8 to $22 an hour, depending on the job and seniority, about $1.50 an hour more than their Southern California counterparts. In addition, they pay no premiums for health insurance and are subject to co-pays of $10 for office and emergency room visits.

Under their new contract, Southern California clerks may have to pay $15 a week in premiums in the third year of the contract, while new hires will pay $9 a week for reduced benefits.

Stores affected

The labor contract set to expire this weekend includes workers at:

– Albertsons

– Ralphs

– Safeway

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