Grocery workers await word on when they’ll go on strike

Unionized workers of Safeway, City Market and Albertsons grocery stores are awaiting word from Washington, D.C., on when to strike.

Contract negotiations have stalled and Safeway workers have voted to go on strike. Because of an agreement among the competing grocery store chains, the strike vote by Safeway workers could mean that unionized workers at other chains will be locked out of work.

Union workers are asking for reinstatement of many benefits, which include early retirement, subsidies and death benefits, as well as a 35 cents an hour raise, said Laura Chapin, a spokeswoman for United Food and Commercial Workers No. 7.

“The companies are using the recession as an excuse to cut wages and benefits,” Chapin said.

A call to the UFCW’s No. 7 employee information line tells workers that negotiations broke down Oct. 20. The workers’ old contract expired in May.

“The workers made impassioned pleas for the last best and final offer,” according to the recording. “Workers passed the motion to start the strike as soon as the final strike sanctions are released from the international union. ... It could be as early as a day or two.”

Chapin said the local union is awaiting word from union lawyers in Washington, who are reviewing the details of the Safeway workers’ vote to strike. Once the lawyers sign off on the vote, workers will be notified that the strike is on.

But Chapin said a strike is not the goal.

“Nobody wants a strike,” she said. “On the other hand, workers want to support their families and retire at some point.”

Representatives from Safeway did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for King Soopers, the parent company of City Market, said she is still holding out hope that a strike may be averted.

“We are concerned with the direction this is going and we certainly hope there isn’t a strike because no one will win on any side,” said Diane Mulligan, King Soopers spokeswoman.

She added that the mutual strike assistance agreement — when one grocery chain will lock out its union employees if another chain’s employees goes on strike — is optional.

But if Safeway workers walk, and Soopers/City Market bars union employees, the grocery stores will remain open.

“We have temporary workers on standby and have since May,” Mulligan said. “Our customers should not see any difference in their shopping experience.”

Mulligan said City Market and King Soopers employees have a good contract, especially in this economy.

She said the company has offered more than 65 percent of its workers at the top tier of the pay scale a raise, increased medical coverage plans that allow for employees to cover their entire family for $60 a month after working a year, and the company is contributing nearly $40 million into an employee retirement plan.


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