New Local 667 Contract Makes Progress Towards Career and Family-Sustaining Jobs

March 19, 2024

UE Local 667, whose members work at Pittsburgh’s East End Co-op grocery store, ratified a new three-year agreement on March 7.

“We told the employer from day one at the [bargaining] table that our membership demanded a radical change in how our labor was compensated,” said UE Local 667 President Fritz Geist. “The local made it very clear through our actions that we were organized and stood collectively prepared to take all steps necessary to win a great contract.”

As part of the campaign for a fair contract, the local coordinated days when members wore yellow shirts to demonstrate support for the union’s bargaining goals. Member leaders also designated a special day to prepare buttons with campaign slogans like “Living Wage Now!”, which were proudly worn by union members across the store.

Seven UE Local 667 members gathered in the produce section, some with raised fists, wearing yellow shirts
A yellow shirt day in the produce section.

A contract support committee was established, and, along with the bargaining committee, organized flyers and phone trees to give keep union members updated on the status of negotiations and upcoming meetings.

The local made sure many of the bargaining sessions with management were “open,” allowing union members to attend negotiations and speak directly to the employer on the importance of union proposals while showing the membership’s support for the local’s bargaining committee.

Life-Changing Gains on Wages

The local achieved life-changing gains on wages, with the minimum rate immediately increased from $15/hour to $18.45/hour. The average increase in the first year will be over 16 percent, resulting in an average increase of over $2.65 per hour. In years two and three, members will see increases of at least 2.5 percent each year, and in many cases significantly more.

As part of the effort to compress wages and advance equity across jobs, the contract’s wage progression will be reduced from five steps down to two steps. “Equal pay for equal work was definitely a priority of the local. We made real progress on that front,” said Geist.

“Achieving these gains on wages will allow so many of us to continue working at the store,” added bargaining committee member Reid Magette. “We have laid the foundation for these to be career jobs. That is going to be critical towards the long-term success and viability of this co-op. It’s a big deal.”

For the first time, the union will have a paid parental leave provision in its contract; moving forward, parents will receive six weeks of full pay while caring for and bonding with a new child.

“Without a paid parental leave provision, new parents have been put in the unenviable situation of juggling their caregiving duties, protecting their physical health, and preventing gaps in pay,” said Chief Steward Josh Trapp. “We needed these jobs to be career and family-sustaining ones. The win on parental leave was so monumental for us moving forward,”

In another first, workers providing training will now be compensated with an additional $2 per hour. Union members will now see their store discount increase from 20 to 25 percent off retail. The local gained a new paid closed holiday for the day after Thanksgiving (e.g., the store will now be closed on that day and workers will receive a paid holiday), and May Day will now be recognized as a paid holiday for those that work on May 1, giving them time and a half holiday pay.

“Getting May Day recognized as a paid holiday gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the struggles of the working class around the world and across history,” said Trapp. “We will use our new holiday to advance the class consciousness of the members of UE Local 667.”

In other wins, the local will now have more paid break time for employees working beyond eight hours, and the employer agreed to donate $2,200 to the paid time off donation pool for workers to use in the event of a medical emergency.

The health insurance deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums will remain the same for the duration of the agreement, with employees continuing their previous percentage share of the premium costs.

The new contract contains no concessions.

Reflecting on the impact of the new contract, UE Local 667 Vice President Erin Neszpaul said, “This co-op’s greatest resource is its workers, and our relationships with the customers and community we serve. This agreement will allow us to live dignified lives and enable the store’s greatest resource, its workforce, to flourish.”

Gains on Respect and Dignity at Work

The local won key gains on the respect and dignity front as well. The maximum probationary period will be reduced from four months to three months, granting new hires benefits and rights more quickly. The union will now have more time to conduct union orientation for new hires and increased the number of paid union representatives allowed to conduct those orientations so that new workers are properly introduced into the local.

Bereavement leave will also increase by up to two additional days, providing workers the necessary time to grieve the loss of a loved one.

Perhaps most significantly, the employer will no longer require workers to provide proof of death documentation when taking bereavement. “Requiring that workers provide proof of death was unnecessary and traumatizing. Getting that language removed will go a long way in building a more trusting and respectful relationship with the Co-op,” said Financial Secretary Jason Lovell.

Prioritizing Decision Making

In addition to the priorities around wages and benefits, the local set out to fundamentally change the direction of the store.

“In order for the store to thrive in the future and advance its core values, our union believes a reimagination of the Co-op is necessary. The people working on the floor — those that are interacting with customers and vendors — see huge opportunities to make this place even more unique, local, seasonal, interesting, and exciting based on relationships and creativity,” said Neszpaul.

To accomplish this, the bargaining committee presented to store management a detailed list of both immediately actionable and long-term changes at the bargaining table. These recommendations included adjustments to make the store a more welcoming community hub, expand the store’s food and education outreach programs, repurpose food in creative ways to increase sustainability, and grant employees the autonomy to inspire seasonal and local offerings that excite customers.

“We intend to be even more active participants in our evolving vision of the store. We love this place and want it to be even better. Our voice at the table is paramount to that,” stated Geist.

While the local made serious gains, it did not accomplish all of its goals. Following the example set by UE Locals 506 and 618 in their bargaining with Wabtec last summer, the local attempted to win the right to strike mid-contract as part of bargaining. Despite maintaining its position until the last day of negotiations, the local was ultimately unable to secure changes to the agreement’s “no strike” clause.

“We didn’t win everything we set out to achieve, but this is a stepping-stone contract that will allow us build better relationships with our co-workers and more organization so that we can be even stronger during our next round of negotiations,” Geist concluded.

The new contract runs through March 12, 2027. The members of UE Local 667 perform a variety of productive work at the co-op, including cooking, baking, product curation, stocking, food and supplement purchasing, customer service, and store promotion and outreach.

The union bargaining committee consisted of President Fritz Geist, Vice President Erin Neszpaul, Financial Secretary Jason Lovell, Chief Steward Josh Trapp, and Reid Magette. They were assisted by Field Organizer Ben Wilson. UE Research Director Karl Zimmerman and Eastern Regional President George Waksmunski also contributed to the contract campaign.


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