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Safeway and King Soopers workers vote on "win-win situation"

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For much of the past year, contract negotiations at Colorado King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons stores have dragged on amid an atmosphere riper than an unrefrigerated meat section. But at last, a peaceful solution seems near.

Last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and Albertsons reached an agreement on a new contract, with employees in Grand Junction voting to ratify it as well on Tuesday. And today, Safeway workers who rejected the original pact, as well as folks from those King Soopers units that turned thumbs-down too, are gathering at the Denver Merchandise Mart to decide whether or not to accept an agreement sweetened by extra money going into retirees' health and welfare fund.

UFCW Local 7 supports ratification, with spokesman Dave Minshall calling the deal a "win-win."

According to Minshall, the so-called last, best and final offer put forward by King Soopers and Safeway last year "hasn't changed. But what's happened since most of the Safeway employees rejected the contract, and most of the King Soopers employees accepted it, is that Kim Cordova" -- the new head of the union, who was profiled in this Westword feature from December -- "requested an audit of our two self-insurance plans."

The plans -- one for active members, the other for retired members -- "are administered by a trust, with three people from the union and three people from management overseeing each of them," Minshall continues. "And the audit showed that we have $12 million above the needed reserves in the active workers' health-care plan. So the trust voted to transfer that money to the active trust for retired members in $4 million whacks over three years."

This infusion of cash addresses one of the major gripes about the contract. UFCW Local 7 calculates that without these additional funds, retirees would see their health-care costs go up 21 percent. Moreover, the shift benefits workers who already ratified the contract as well as those who have not yet done so.

Minshall calls the trust transfer "the icing on the cake" of the contract. "It doesn't cost the unions anything, it doesn't cost the corporations anything, but it does help the retirees' health fund -- and those premiums have been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years."

Results of the Denver vote should be known later this evening, with workers in Colorado Springs casting their ballots tomorrow and employees in Pueblo following suit on Monday. More details are available on the union's website, which includes a note from Cordova headlined, "Local 7 Is Under New Management: Workers Now In Charge."

And it looks like most of them want to make a deal.

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