A “sizeable majority” of members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 have voted to ratify a new contract with grocery store employers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. UFCW Local 555 announced the result in a press release late Friday night.
The new three-year contract includes a 20-hour weekly guarantee for work hours, wage increases for all workers, no increases in health care premiums, new health care benefit additions and improved procedures for vacation requests.
“In standing together and demonstrating our solidarity and determination, we won this historic contract by being Union Strong,” UFCW Local 555 president Dan Clay said in a written statement. “And we couldn’t have done it without our communities coming together to stand with us: from shoppers to elected officials to workers’ rights activists who demonstrated their support. Local 555 members: we are all the union, and we together make the difference.”
The new contract takes effect the day after the current contracts expires, and applies retroactively in cases where the previous contract has already expired. Some of the contracts in the union’s jurisdiction expired in the summer of 2018, according to the union, while others have not yet expired.
The contract establishes a formalized path for employees to advance to higher-paid positions based on skills and qualifications, which the union characterized as an important step toward achieving gender pay equity.
The contract also boosts wages across the board. The union’s statement does not specify pay rates, but states that the position of apprentice-scale wages relative to the minimum wage will remain consistent even as the minimum wage continues to increase over the life of the contract.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that secures increased wages, continued premium health care coverage and pension stability,” Fred Meyer spokesman Jeffery Temple said in an email to The Columbian. “We thank our hardworking associates for continuing to serve our customers and communities every day. Our top priority is to do what is best — provide our customers with the freshest products and the friendliest associates.”
The tentative contract agreement was announced on Sept. 28 following a two-day bargaining session, and came after more than a year of negotiations between the union and regional grocery store owners. UFCW Local 555 represents Oregon and Southwest Washington grocery workers in the region’s Fred Meyer and QFC stores, which are owned by parent company Kroger, as well as Safeway and Albertsons stores.
Tensions increased in the past two months as the union made a series of moves to ratchet up pressure. Union members voted in August to authorize their bargaining team to call for a strike, although a strike was never officially scheduled. The union announced on Sept. 10 that it would cancel all existing contracts with Kroger, and on Sept. 22 the union called for a regional boycott of Fred Meyer stores. The boycott was called off after the tentative deal was announced.
Fred Meyer employs roughly 18,000 workers at more than 50 stores in the region, including seven in Clark County.