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Split vote on Save Mart contract offer further muddles labor picture

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 7:06 am

A tentative labor contract at Save Mart Supermarkets was supposed to bring clarity to the labor drama gripping Northern California's supermarket industry.

Instead, it brought more confusion.

The United Food and Commercial Workers announced Wednesday that workers in the Central Valley voted to ratify a two-year contract with the Modesto grocery chain.

But two locals covering the Bay Area rejected the deal with Save Mart, the UFCW said.

A union spokeswoman said the split verdict means the contract won't go into effect.

While they turned down the tentative contract, the Bay Area workers didn't deliver enough "no" votes to authorize a strike.

Strike authorization requires a two-thirds vote. The union didn't furnish details of the Bay Area votes.

The union said it informed Save Mart of the results and is "seeking further discussions regarding the outcome."

Save Mart spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell said, "At this point, it's probably a mystery for us all."

One thing is fairly clear: The rejection by Bay Area workers means there will be no swift resolution to the industry's labor crisis in Northern California, now more than 10 months old.

Labor experts had said the tentative deal at Save Mart could provide a template for new contracts at Northern California's other unionized chains, Safeway and Raley's. But the rejection by the Bay Area workers means the situation remains uncertain.

Ken Jacobs, a labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley, said it's possible the locals could go back to the bargaining table.

The three unionized chains have been pressing the UFCW for concessions in order to compete more effectively against nonunion rivals such as Wal-Mart.

The Save Mart deal includes several concessions, including the elimination of bonus pay for Sunday and night work. Employees will have to start contributing toward health insurance premiums for family members.

The company dropped some of the more controversial proposals, including the elimination of retiree health coverage.

In urging its members to accept the concessions, officials with UFCW Local 8 in Roseville, stretching from Kern County to the Oregon border, said more than half of Save Mart's stores are losing money.

But if Local 8's members were convinced, their counterparts at Locals 5 and 648 in the Bay Area weren't. Leaders of the two Bay Area locals were unavailable for comment.

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Read more articles by Dale Kasler

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