A “sizable majority” of members in a regional grocery workers union have ratified a contract with Fred Meyer and other stores, ending a 16-month period of sometimes tense negotiations, according to union officials.
The three-year contract, agreed to Friday night, guarantees employees a minimum 20-hour workweek, provides wage increases for all workers and “aims toward” closing a perceived gender pay gap, said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 spokeswoman Kelley McAllister.
The union represents about 18,000 grocery workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
In a prepared statement Saturday, Fred Meyer spokesman Jeffery Temple said the company is “pleased to have reached an agreement that secures increased wages, continued premium health care coverage and pension stability. We thank our hardworking associates for continuing to serve our customers and communities every day.”
The union declined to say how many union members voted “yes” to ratify the contract.
UFCW 555 started negotiating a new contract with Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons and QFC more than a year ago, but a wage dispute stalled negotiations. According to union officials, the company was offering “nickels and dimes” compared to requests by union members.
The union was particularly upset with Fred Meyer, which union officials accused of unfair labor practices during the negotiations.
The standstill led union members to approve a strike authorization vote in August, and later ask customers to boycott Fred Meyer stores.
The union and the companies reached a tentative agreement about a week after the boycott.
“I have no way of knowing why [the companies] finally moved. I would credit two elements, and one is the boycott,” McAllister said. “The boycott had a nearly instantaneous impact. Our customers were ready and they stood with us.”
McAllister said a federal mediator, who met with the groups the week before the settlement, may have also played a role in the company’s change of heart.
Temple said his company’s “top priority is to do what is best —provide our customers with the freshest products and the friendliest associates.”
The contract provides “schedule A” employees, such as grocery checkers and courtesy clerks, with a 55-cent raise each year of the contract and “schedule B” employees, such as bakery and deli workers, with a 90-cent raise each year of the contract. That’s a 25-cent and 50-cent boost over previous contract offers for schedule A and schedule B workers, respectively.
(The average hourly wage for schedule A workers was $17.22 and the average hourly wage for schedule B workers was $13.69 before the new contract, according to the UFCW 555 website. It was unclear how those average hourly wages would change under the new contract.)
Central checkout employees will receive 60-cent raises each year of the contract, McAllister said.
The contract also raises “non-foods” wages up to schedule B rates, McAllister said. Some of those employees previously made less than schedule B workers, though amount of the difference varied from city to city.
“In Portland, the bump was a dime, but in Longview the bump was $1,” she said. “Longview non-foods folks will see their first raise be $1.90 an hour.“
The raises are the highest the union has ever received, McAllister said. A portion of the raises will be supported financially by health-care reserve money the union is giving up to the companies, she said.
“On one hand, we would love for this to be higher,” McAllister said. “But on the other hand, this is two times more than we’ve ever gotten before on schedule A and 3 1/2 higher than we’ve ever gotten on schedule B.”
The contract also lessened the gender pay gap, McAllister said. That gap was created by the different pay scales between schedule A, which employs more men, and schedule B, which employs more women.
Although the contract doesn’t completely close the $3.53 difference union officials found between the schedules, it is a step in the right direction, McAllister said.
“This will raise schedule B up $1.05, so it will cut that gap by almost a third,” McAllister said.
If that rate of raise continues, the union could close the gap in nine years, she said. Previous estimates, based on past raises, showed it would take 35 years to close the gap.
New language in the contract also makes it easier for workers to transfer from schedule B jobs to schedule A jobs, McAllister said.
“In the past, it was just at the whim of the manager. What was happening was people, more often than not women, were asking to move over to schedule A, and the company would deny the request,” McAllister said. And then the company would sometimes proceed to hire a new employee to fill the schedule A vacancy.
“What will happen now, I think, is that we will see schedule B is made more and more of new folks, and people of experience will move over to schedule A,” McAllister said.
Union officials also highlighted the 20-hour workweek guarantee, which will make all workers eligible to receive benefits, McAllister said.
The 20-hour workweek guarantee may also “snowball for people” because it incentivizes employers to give their current workers more hours instead of hiring new people, McAllister said.
For contracts that expired before this agreement was reached, the new contract will be retroactively applied back to the expiration date.