Giant and Safeway workers in the Washington, D.C., area represented by United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 overwhelmingly ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that provides for significant wage increases, improved health benefits and strengthened retirement security.
After lengthy and difficult negotiations in which management proposed dozens of givebacks and workers reached out to customers and the community, the contract contains no concessions affecting current or future members of the bargaining unit.
“Our members’ activism and solidarity is why they won one of the best collective bargaining agreements in the supermarket industry,” said UFCW Local 400 President Tom McNutt. “Whenever management tried to push us into making more sacrifices, our members made clear on the floor of the store and everywhere else they were willing to do whatever it takes to get a fair deal. They stood back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder more than I’ve ever seen, and that is why this contract improves their economic standing and health and retirement security.
“It’s especially impressive that we were able to obtain one of the only contracts in the country with a Maintenance of Benefits provision requiring Giant and Safeway to contribute whatever it takes to our health and welfare plan to pay all health benefits,” McNutt said. “No matter what, our members will receive comprehensive health coverage without having to pay a penny more out of pocket.”
The bargaining sessions were attended by more than 20 rank and file members; all urged their co-workers to ratify the contract.
“I sat across the table from management, I asked the company for a fair contract, and I told them I would do anything to get it,” said Satheria Duvernay, an advisory committee member who works at Giant No. 773 in Herndon, Va. “I protested the companies’ hiring ‘replacement’ workers, handed out buttons and got pledge cards signed. Now we’ve got a good contract that gets us the fruit of our labors. It took an army of activists to get this done.”
Advisory committee member Sam Abed, who works at Safeway No. 945, said, “I’m happy with the outcome of this contract. It’s fair and we are glad to have our union team on our side.”
“Our president did something different this year,” said Michele Hepner, an advisory committee member who works at Giant No. 243 in Stafford, Va. “He invited rank and file members to attend negotiations. I sat across from Giant’s lawyer. Our president stood strong and he protected us. We kept our pension, we kept our premium pay on Sundays and we got our raise. It took a lot of hard work by union members. I think it’s a wonderful contract.”
Key contract provisions include:
• Across-the-board wage increases, effective April 1, that exceed increases in the cost of living for most members. This is one of the few contracts in the supermarket industry where all pay increases are provided in higher hourly wages rather than a one-time bonus;
• Full funding of health benefits with no increase in members’ out-of-pocket costs and improved coverage in areas such as HPV vaccinations and endodontic care (root canals); and
• Continued retirement security with all current pension benefits maintained and new steps to resolve funding issues for at least the next 10 years.
Concessions demanded by Giant and Safeway that were defeated by Local 400 included creation of a new wage tier for new hires, an increase in healthcare co-payments, an end to healthcare Maintenance of Benefits, and treatment of Sunday as part of the regular work week.
The collective bargaining agreement takes effect retroactively April 1 and ends Oct. 31, 2013. Its 19-month duration is due to the uncertainty around implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on the health and welfare plan covering Giant and Safeway workers. By the fall of 2013, most unanswered questions about the new law should be resolved.
“Pleased as we are with the agreement our members enthusiastically ratified today, we view it as a foundation for further improvements in the next round of bargaining,” McNutt said. “We’re going to sustain and build our member activism over the next 19 months, we’re going to organize tenaciously and work to unite grocery workers throughout our region, and we’re going to enter negotiations stronger than ever.”
UFCW Local 400 represents 40,000 members working in the retail food, healthcare, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.