Raley’s Family of Fine Stores and the United Food and Commercial Workers reached an agreement Tuesday morning, ending a nine-day strike that included the Placerville grocery store.
“This is very exciting because this contract provides us with the cost savings we need to fund our vision and the initiatives to make us more competitive in the 21st Century,“ stated President of Raley’s of Family Fine Stores Mike Teel in a press release. “I greatly appreciate the incredible effort put forth by our employees and company during this time as well as thank the many customers who continued to support us. As one of the last large family-owned grocery chains, it will be great to have everyone back working again.”
Employees of Raley’s continued to picket outside the Placerville store Monday as negotiations took place in San Francisco between company management and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 union.
Off the job since Nov. 4, striking employees said they had two grievances.
One regarded a medical trust fund that the grocery store pays into along with its employees. The trust fund is a conglomerate of grocery chains including Raley’s, Save Mart and Safeway.
Raley’s wanted to withdraw from it, maintaining that the company can do a better job of managing it than the union and can also bring down its cost.
John Segale, a spokesperson for Raley’s, said the company already runs 30 other health plans and they can offer employees a plan that is as good or better than that enjoyed by other employees in the company. Segale said their current proposal to the union would provide health benefits either through Kaiser or Blue Cross and employees would not have to contribute to it.
Raley’s also proposed to discontinue medical benefits to employees once they reach the age of 65 and are eligible for Medicare. Segale said the company, like many others, can’t afford to supply health care to employees once they reach 65.
“We’re under immense competition from non-union supermarkets,” said Segale, “as well as an expansion in the number of supermarkets in the area we serve.”
However, local employees weren’t happy with these proposed changes. “The medical benefits are wonderful and one of the reasons for working here,” said Lee Johnson, 39.
An employee at the store for over 20 years, he said, “I love the company, love the store, and love the customers. I don’t want to lose what I have worked so long for. We know the economy is terrible, but we want the trust fund left alone.”
Dennis Pickard, 58, another one of those picketing the store, objected to switching to Medicare when he hits 65. A resident of Diamond Springs, he takes care of his mother who is paralyzed from the waist down and is dependent on Medicare. He said he’s seen her struggle to pay for what care she receives and he prefers the medical coverage he gets through Raley’s.
Pickard said he was afraid that if Raley’s took over the trust fund and ended up going broke, “the employees will lose everything.”
The proposed agreement by Raley’s also included a salary freeze for two years. But many of those picketing said they didn’t care about that. All they wanted was to hang on to the medical benefits they currently have.
Mark Conley, 55, a retiree of Raley’s, said he was on the picket line because “the company is spinning a bunch of lies,” he said. “Our retirement is a package, including medical. Now the company wants to take over our health and welfare plan.”
He said Raley’s previously did the same thing to their truck drivers when they took over their medical trust fund. Several years later, they reduced their benefits.
“I’m here to support the active employees,” said Conley. “When Raley’s is in control, good things don’t happen. It’s not about the money. It’s about the spin. We’ve worked too long and hard for that trust fund to let it go away.”
Conley said part of their union dues go toward medical benefits and they also have a co-pay. Once they retire, they pay a monthly fee towards health care. He pays $70 a month towards his. “If they take it away, we’ll all be on state assistance,” he said. “I’m worried if Raley’s runs the health plan, they will change the benefits or raise the rates.”
Mike Henneberry, communications director for the union, said in addition to taking over the trust fund and eliminating health care for those over 65, Raley’s also wanted to eliminate medical coverage for all retirees, regardless of age, as well as reduce the amount they contribute towards medical benefits.
However, Segale said Henneberry was incorrect in saying that the company wanted to cut off medical benefits to retirees under the age of 65. He also reiterated that Raley’s medical plan is very similar what employees already have and maintains that if the union allowed members to vote on the plan, the issue would have been settled sooner.
The grocery company and the union have been without a contract since it expired at the end of October in 2011. They were in negotiations since Saturday. The union previously announced a separate agreement with Safeway on Nov. 8 that was reached without a strike.
Raley’s had its founding in Placerville and has been in business for 77 years. The family owned grocery store has 13,000 employees, although only 7,500 are unionized. The strike, the first against the grocery chain, affected 90 of its 120 supermarkets that operate throughout Northern California and Nevada.
Details were not immediately released to the public about the agreement made between Raley’s and the union. The agreement will end 15 months of negotiations between the two sides.
“It is important to remember that everyone including our employees, our customers, our company and the communities we serve have suffered in this labor dispute. So, it gives me great pleasure to know that as of today our employees will be back to work serving our customers with the same attention and care as we have always served our customers at Raley’s and Nob Hill,” stated Teel.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter. Managing editor Patrick Ibarra contributed to this report.