An upcoming change to Albertson’s employee benefits for Arizona workers could leave some part-time employees without health coverage.
“Part-time associates are eligible for health care based on the number of hours they work, and some plan changes could affect eligibility. They may have to work more hours to be eligible,” said Karen Ramos, spokeswoman for the supermarket chain.
Ramos would not say exactly what the changes were or how many more hours per month part-timers might have to work to keep company-sponsored health care coverage. But she said those who lose eligibility will be able to purchase benefits for themselves and their families through a “bridge plan.”
The benefit changes will also boost the tab that eligible employees pay for health care.
“The premiums increase to reflect the huge increase in the cost of health care,” Ramos said. “As health care costs increase we can only absorb so much, and we have to pass along some — a small amount — to our associates.”
Albertson’s is not unionized in Arizona, but unionized shops such as Fry’s and Safeway supermarkets also are facing and fighting proposed health care benefit changes at the bargaining tables. And health care benefit changes have been a contentious issue for union contract negotiations around the country as well as in Arizona.
“Health care benefits, work rules and scheduling have always been matters of intense negotiations,” said Pete Webb, spokesman for Fry’s and Safeway regarding the Arizona contract talks.
Those talks have been ongoing since October when the previous contract for Fry’s and Safeway workers expired.
Webb would not give details about the sticking points or whether they are getting resolved.
“I can’t say we’re making progress, but we are continuing to talk,” he said. Union representatives did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
A breakdown in negotiations on the same issues led to a five-month strike in Southern California. Union representatives and supermarkets did not reveal details of the settlement approved in late February.
Supermarket companies in California and Arizona have said they need to trim expenses to keep prices low or risk ruin by mass retailers such as Wal-Mart.
“With all the competition in food retailing, we have to have a cost structure allowing us to charge customers the lowest prices,” Ramos said. “Wal-Mart is one (low-cost competitor), but there are lots of others. The companies we compete with offer limited or no benefits to associates. We have to manage our costs to remain competitive and survive as a retailer.”