Business & Real Estate

Save Mart confirms deals reached with union

Save Mart, the Modesto-based grocery chain, has reached a tentative agreement with the union representing its workers.
Save Mart, the Modesto-based grocery chain, has reached a tentative agreement with the union representing its workers. Merced Sun-Star

The union representing many of the employees of Save Mart Supermarkets announced a tentative contract agreement with the Modesto grocery chain Monday, calling the pact a “win-win” that benefits labor and management alike.

Although it took a year of negotiations for the grocery chain to reach a deal with Local 8 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Roseville, the agreement could signal a period of relative labor harmony in the Northern California supermarket industry after a prolonged period of upheaval. Local 8 represents employees in the Central Valley.

Save Mart confirmed the agreement, and added that it also has a deal with Local 648 in San Francisco.

However, Local 5 in San Jose, the third bargaining unit representing Save Mart employees, hasn’t made a deal yet. In a statement posted on its website Monday, Local 5 indicated contract talks still have far to go.

The San Jose local said it is seeking additional bargaining sessions with the company “to resolve several key issues that remain on the table.” The local said the company is seeking to extend into a new three-year deal some of “the negative economic components” of the contract that the union grudgingly accepted two years ago.

Robert Reynolds, a supermarket industry consultant in Moraga, said it’s too soon to say if the Save Mart agreements with local 8 and 648 mean labor and management are entering a more peaceful era. “There’s still a lot of pressure on the marketplace from operators like Wal-Mart” and other nonunion grocers, Reynolds said.

The growth of companies like Wal-Mart led to months of labor turmoil in 2012, the last time contracts were up for renewal at the major unionized chains in Northern California. Save Mart and Raley’s pressed the UFCW for concessions, saying they were losing money.

The result was a strike at Raley’s and its Bel Air and Nob Hill subsidiaries in November 2012, the first-ever walkout for the West Sacramento grocer. The 10-day strike ended with workers agreeing to pay more for health care and surrendering perks such as bonus pay for Sunday and holiday shifts.

Save Mart barely averted a strike. The UFCW’s negotiators agreed to contract concessions, but members of Local 5 rejected it. That split put the entire agreement in limbo even though the concessions were supported by members of locals 8 and 648.

Local 5’s members voted against the deal a second time. But because there wasn’t the necessary two-thirds support for a strike, Local 5 leaders invoked a union rule and ratified the contract themselves. Their reasoning: Staging a walkout with such a deeply divided union would have been suicidal.

As for the new Save Mart contract, President Jacques Loveall of Local 8 hailed the tentative deal as “a model for aligning labor and management interests.” In a news release, he said the contract “provides top wages and the finest health care and pension benefits in the grocery industry.”

But there appear to be cost savings as well. Save Mart spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell said by email that while the deal provides “a good wage and benefits package, (it) better positions our company for future success by bringing our costs closer to parity with the largely nonunion marketplace.”

Details of the tentative contract won’t be released until after workers vote, sometime in November.

Negotiations on new contracts are underway with Raley’s and Safeway Inc., the third major unionized chain in Northern California. Safeway agreed earlier this year to a takeover by a private equity firm that also owns Albertsons.

Loveall, in an email to The Sacramento Bee, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about avoiding another strike at Raley’s. The reason is that Raley’s has replaced “the carpetbagger” who led negotiations for the company two years ago, he said. That was an apparent reference to a former Raley’s labor-relations consultant named Bob Tiernan, with whom Loveall frequently sparred.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.