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Smith’s, union to resume negotiations

SMITHSALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Negotiations resume Wednesday between Smith’s Food & Drug Centers Inc. and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1564 to replace a labor agreement that expired June 7.

The 2,200 workers in 25 New Mexico stores represented by the union agreed with the Salt Lake City-based chain to extend the current contract through Aug. 2. After that date either party can cancel the agreement by providing the other party 72 hours notice, according to local president Greg Frazier.

Local 1564 accused Smith’s in a National Labor Relations Board complaint of negotiating in bad faith. The complaint says the company and the union were scheduled to negotiate on consecutive days between June 2 and June 7 in order to reach agreement before the contract expired. The union says that “Smith’s engaged in surface bargaining and consistently refused to engage in economic negotiations” and then terminated negotiations June 4.

Marsha Gilford, Smith’s vice president of public affairs, said in a telephone interview the company believed little progress was being made at the bargaining table and recommended a federal mediator be brought in to expedite negotiations, as had been done during contract talks in 2010.

Frazier said that “it’s a little early to use a mediator” since the company has not proposed new wages and benefits.

Smith’s parent company, The Kroger Co., “has been doing great, and the employees are struggling,” he said. In previous negotiations the union “agreed to huge concessions” including reduced holiday pay and reduced health benefits for newer employees to help Smith’s compete with Walmart, Frazier said.

Gilford said Smith’s is “committed to reaching an agreement that will provide our associates with a good and very competitive package of pay and benefits. That is our goal with every contract.”

“Kroger has worked successfully with UFC locals across the country,” she said. “If the parties stay focused, that’s what we hope will happen here.”

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