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Coastal grocery union approves contract.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

Nearly 1,200 coastal grocery workers at 17 stores on Thursday finished ratifying new five-year labor contracts identical to those approved by fellow union workers in the Eugene-Springfield area Nov. 24.

Voting by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 took place on the south coast Tuesday, in Florence on Wednesday, and in the Newport-Lincoln City area on Thursday. They included employees of Safeway, Fred Meyer, McKay's and Albertsons stores.

The largest group of employees - about 800 - were on the south coast and work in stores in Coos Bay, North Bend, Coquille, Myrtle Point, Bandon and Reedsport.

Ed Clay, the union's secretary-treasurer, said the approval was expected because the Eugene-Springfield vote traditionally sets terms for similar contracts in communities around the state outside the Portland metropolitan area.

Union members in the Eugene-Springfield area approved their contract by a 3-1 ratio after months of bitter negotiations that took workers to the brink of a strike.

In the end, workers approved a compromise contract that largely continues generous health-insurance packages in return for meager pay raises and other concessions to management.

Clay could not provide vote totals on the coastal contracts, but said they "passed by a fairly wide margin." Unlike the Eugene-Springfield area, he said, the coastal grocery stores were not affiliated with bargaining organization Northwest Food Employers Inc. which represented the Eugene-Springfield Safeway, Fred Meyer and Albertsons stores.

In the three areas of the coast, he said, each grocery company has separate contracts with their employees. And among those employees, he said, there were different contracts for grocery clerks and meat cutters.

All the contracts followed the lead of the Eugene-Springfield settlement which called for a term of five years with two 25-cents-an-hour raises for journeymen employees only - one immediately and one in 2004, with three lump-sum bonuses. Journeymen employees are those with 2 1/2 years or more experience Employees agreed to share some of the costs of rising health insurance premiums, but will incur no out-of-pocket expenses until the annual increases hit 21 percent.

Previous coastal contracts had all expired, in either August or October. Like the Eugene-Springfield employees, the coastal workers had authorized their union representatives to call a strike, and were prepared to walk out if their fellow union members in Eugene and Springfield had done so. That fact provided workers additional leverage in the key Eugene-Springfield negotiations, Clay said.

"We were able to get a little better contract for everybody," he said.

The coast votes mean that all the Oregon grocery union employees now have contracts, he said, but negotiations begin soon on contracts for employees in Roseburg, Grants Pass, and Medford that expire early next year.

"We will probably end up with a similar offer for them to what we got in Eugene," Clay said.
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Title Annotation:Labor: The ratification is no surprise, after a recent vote in Eugene-Springfield.; Business
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 13, 2002
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