Save Market Supermakets' labor unions have approved a new contract with the Modesto grocery chain that includes wage and benefit concessions, the union announced today.
The announcement means Save Mart is the first of the three unionized grocers in Northern California to secure labor cost savings from the United Food and Commercial Workers. Raley's and Safeway Inc. are still struggling through negotiations that began last October.
UFCW Local 5 in San Jose was the last of the three locals to approve the contract. Members actually voted to reject the contract in balloting that ended Friday, but Local 5's executive board planned to invoke union rules and ratify the deal on the members' behalf, according to an announcement by Jacques Loveall, a vice president with the UFCW international union and president of the local covering the Central Valley.
Loveall said the move by the executive board was endorsed by leaders of the international union in Washington, D.C.
Local 5 announced that members voted by a 52-48 margin to reject the contract. Because that was well short of the two-thirds margin needed to authorize a strike, the union's executive board will move to ratify the contract Monday.
Mike Henneberry, a spokesman for Local 5, said similar action was taken in 2001 to ratify a contract with Safeway. Henneberry called the contract terms with Save Mart "distasteful" but could get the struggling company back on its feet.
"It will give us a chance to fight another day," he said.
All three grocery chains have been pushing for concessions, which they say they need to regain market share from nonunion stores like Wal-Mart. Union officials have said Save Mart is actually losing money - something the company has declined to discuss.
The contract requires Save Mart workers, for the first time, to pay health care premiums for family members. It also eliminates bonus pay in most cases for night work, and includes other concessions.
Employees first voted on the contract a month ago. Local 5 and San Francisco's Local 648 overwhelmingly rejected it, while Local 8 in Roseville, covering the Central Valley, approved it. Local 648 took another vote earlier this week and approved the deal, and now Local 5 has followed suit.