A potential strike between some of Southern California’s largest grocery chains and more than 4,000 warehouse workers and truck drivers who service their stores was narrowly  averted Saturday when the two sides reached a tentative labor agreement.

Teamster unions representing the employees — who work for Albertsons (including Vons and Pavilions) and Kroger (including Ralphs and Food4Less) — say the agreement will preserve affordable healthcare coverage for workers, their families and retirees.

The last-minute deal came two days after the workers staged a socially distanced protest at an Albertsons in Buena Park where they distributed leaflets citing their concerns with a link to an online petition to support affordable healthcare for themselves and their families.

The two sides have been in negotiations since early August over a contract that expired Sept. 20. Both parties had agreed to an extension. But with no meaningful progress, the union gave a 72-hour notice on Tuesday to cancel the contract extension and prepare to strike.

The notice expired at 3:30 p.m. Friday, and that kicked negotiations into high gear.

Eric Jimenez, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952, said a deal was merited, as the employees have have worked non-stop to make sure shelves were stocked and the companies could remain afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All they’ve asked for in return is a safe workplace, affordable health care for their families, a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work and retirement security.” Jimenez said in a statement.

The workers currently pay a $20 copay for routine doctor appointments and a $100 copay for emergency room visits, union officials said. A sticking point in the negotiations centered around the supermarket chains’ proposal to add a monthly fee for employee healthcare coverage.

Details of Saturday’s tentative agreement will not be released until members have had a chance to vote on the package. Teamster members will be asked to ratify the contract in the coming weeks, union officials said.

Lou Villalvazo, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 630, and chair of the Teamsters Joint Council 42 Food & Grocery Negotiating Committee expressed his satisfaction in a letter to the workers.

“Going into bargaining, our number one concern was protecting your family’s – and retirees’ – affordable health care,” he said. “Not only did we achieve that; your bargaining committee secured additional funding from the grocers to increase our reserve levels to protect your health care in the future.”

Source: OC Register