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Fry’s Food Stores and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 reached an agreement on a new labor contract that will impact employees working at 123 Fry’s stores in Arizona, the company announced this week.

The newly ratified three-year agreement covers more than 19,500 Fry’s workers throughout the state.

Jim McLaughlin, the president of UFCW Local 99, told the Business Journal he’s proud that the contract is keeping health care costs low for his members, that the members pension is staying in place and that there will be wage increases. Some members will be able to get raises as much as $3,000, McLaughlin said.

The Covid-19 pandemic complicated the negotiation process this year, McLaughlin said. Not only were there discussions on PPE and safety measures, but also all the negotiations were done over Zoom calls or emails.

“It slowed the process down and dragged out negotiations longer than they needed to be,” McLaughlin said.

Despite the long process, McLaughlin said, this new agreement had more interest from members than ever before. The contract was ratified by a large margin and had the highest voter turnout ever, he said. The number of union members voting on the agreement increased by around 50%. McLaughlin credited the ability to vote online for that.

“Fry’s is pleased our associates ratified the agreement and recognized our continued investment in their success,” said Monica Garnes, president of the Fry’s division, in a statement. “These agreements come after thoughtful and productive work by both the company and union bargaining committees.”

Grocery workers have played a vital role in the economy in the past year as store traffic increased during the pandemic. As more has been asked of workers, McLaughlin said there has been more interest in unions and collective bargaining agreements among workers that were deemed “essential.”

“Almost all of our members are considered ‘essential workers,’” McLaughlin said. “We are seeing an increase in conversations with workers about the union.”

Fry’s, which is the local division of Kroger Co., is the largest grocery chain in the Valley.

Elsewhere, though, Kroger decided to permanently close two stores in California instead of complying with a local mandate that grocery stores provide hazard pay to some employees because of the pandemic. Those stores are a Ralphs supermarket and a Food 4 Less discount grocery both located in Long Beach, California.

Source: Phoenix Business Journal