Smith’s Food and Drug Centers Inc. and the United Food and Commercial Workers are back at the bargaining table today, after the local branch of the union accused Smith’s parent company of walking out of labor negotiations last week over contracts that cover the grocer’s employees statewide.
While the contract negotiations address a range of workplace and pay topics, one disputed issue might impact customers too: President of the UFCW Local 1564, Greg Frazer, says that his organization is urging Smith's stores to carry fresh pork, "not a prepackaged pork." Prepackaged pork delivered to the stores, Frazer says, means fewer work hours for the butchers who work at Smith's locations. A company spokeswoman had no comment.
The union recently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Smith's of negotiating in bad faith for the past 180 days. Frazer claims Smith's "walked out" of bargaining with four days left to go of negotiations.
Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati-based parent company, Kroger Co., counters that it requested a federal mediator to oversee talks because a mediator helped the parties reach an accord during the last round of negotiating in 2010 that finalized a four-year agreement.
"We're not clear as to why the union would object to that since that was so successful last time in reaching an agreement," she says of bringing in a mediator.
The labor board hasn't made a ruling on the complaint as of press time. The negotiations will impact almost 200 employees in Santa Fe's two Smith's locations. By June 7, both contracts had expired, but they've been extended until August as talks resumed this month.
The parties are wrangling over two contracts: one covers meat cutters and one covers retail workers for a total of over 2,000 employees in Smith's stores across New Mexico.
Smith's has been in New Mexico since 1978 with the acquisition of Foodway stores across the state, Gilford says.
Kroger Co. is a publicly traded company that owns grocery chains across the nation. It calls itself one of the largest grocery retailers in the nation with fiscal year 2013 sales of $98.4 billion. Last week, the company reported net earnings of $501 million for the first quarter of this fiscal year—$20 million over the same period in the 2013 fiscal year.
The Local 1564 points to those profits as evidence the company can afford to deliver health coverage to its courtesy clerks, grant part-time employees more labor hours and offer holiday pay. "The pay scale is also really low for employees that were hired after '05 as well," Frazer says.
He adds that Smith's is requesting the ability of its employees to shift between departments within stores.
"They want to be able to use a meat cutter to help out in produce," he says. "We think their specialty is in the area they specialize in. They accuse us of wanting to restrict them, and they want to be more flexible."
Gilford won't comment on the specifics of negotiations, saying it's best to keep these issues between the parties. The two sides are meeting in Albuquerque.
As for the union's perception that the company has plenty of wealth to share, Gilford says that Kroger has made "millions" in reinvestments toward both remodeling New Mexico locations along with offering competitive pay to its employees. She says the company is looking to offer "good compensation packages to our associates" during the negotiations.