Business & Real Estate

Sacramento, Central Valley grocery workers OK deal with Save Mart

The new Save Mart labor deal covers about 5,500 employees in Sacramento and the Central Valley.
The new Save Mart labor deal covers about 5,500 employees in Sacramento and the Central Valley. Sacramento Bee file

Two years after labor turmoil plagued Northern California’s grocery industry, one major supermarket chain has finalized a new contract with thousands of employees.

Save Mart Supermarkets employees in Sacramento and the Central Valley have approved a new contract, the two sides announced.

However, unions representing Save Mart employees in the Bay Area still haven’t concluded a deal with the Modesto-based supermarket chain.

Local 8 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union in Roseville announced that its members approved the contract, which covers some 5,500 Save Mart employees throughout greater Sacramento and much of the Central Valley.

The agreement suggests labor peace could be coming to some segments of Northern California’s supermarket industry, which has seen considerable turmoil in recent years as low-cost, nonunion grocers such as Wal-Mart continue to grab market share. The last time labor contracts came up for renewal, in 2012, thousands of workers went on strike for 10 days against Raley’s and its subsidiary chains, Bel Air and Nob Hill. It was the first strike in West Sacramento-based Raley’s history.

The union is just beginning its talks on new contracts with Raley’s and with Safeway Inc., the third major unionized grocer in Northern California.

Save Mart’s deal with Local 8 restores some of the concessions the union made to the Modesto grocer two years ago, according to an announcement on a union website. At the same time, Save Mart has said the new contract brings “our costs closer to parity with the largely nonunion marketplace.” The deal expires in October 2016.

Two years ago, Local 8 members OK’d a deal with Save Mart but were kept in limbo for a month because two Bay Area locals hadn’t made a deal. Under the terms of this year’s agreement, however, the new contract takes effect regardless of what happens in the Bay Area.

Save Mart’s tentative contract agreement with UFCW Local 648, a small unit in San Francisco, was rejected last week by the rank and file. Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Save Mart, said the company’s representatives plan to meet Tuesday with Local 648 officials to discuss next steps in the contract process.

Separately, Local 5 in San Jose, which represents thousands of workers in the Bay Area and the North Coast, has yet to reach even a tentative contract with Save Mart amid signs of increasing friction between the two sides.

Late last week, Save Mart declared that it was implementing the terms of its “last, best and final” contract offer to Local 5. That means the union must choose between striking or accepting Save Mart’s proposal. On its website, the local announced it has filed unfair-labor charges against Save Mart with the National Labor Relations Board.

“This is a classic case of bad-faith bargaining,” Local 5 said.

Rockwell said Save Mart implemented the terms after failing to get responses from the union to its last offer. The company’s proposal calls for some contract concessions but also provides wage increases “for many employees,” she said.

Save Mart operates 226 stores and generated sales of nearly $4.9 billion last year, according to Stores magazine, a publication of the National Retail Federation.

Unionized grocery workers in Northern California make up to $21 an hour, plus benefits. Although most employees earn considerably less than that, the wage and benefit package is still considered to be among the most generous in the entire U.S. supermarket industry. But the success of nonunion grocers has brought wages and benefits under pressure in the past decade.

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