Thousands of Puget Sound area grocery workers gave notice late Friday that they will strike if a new labor deal is not reached by a Monday 7 p.m. deadline.
About 21,000 workers for Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and QFC stores in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Mason counties would take part. If the strike goes into effect, workers in those counties will picket outside stores and ask community members to honor their work and shop at alternative stores, United Food and Commercial Workers union spokesman Tom Geiger said.
Union workers called their employers’ current proposal “the worst proposal they had ever seen” and said they hope the strike notice will speed up what they said had been “slow” negotiations with the corporations for a new deal. They stood in Westlake Park at a Friday night news conference in front of a big, white, makeshift clock that is to tick off the hours until the deadline.
The local chapter of UFCW must give employers 72 hours’ notice before walking out. That still leaves an opening for both sides to return to the bargaining table and reach a resolution.
Last month, 98 percent of union members in the four-county region voted to authorize a strike. Their contracts expired in May. Since then, the union and grocery chains have been battling over a new three-year contract.
Allied Employers Vice President Scott Powers is the employers’ lead negotiator. In a statement, he said “the only way to work through the remaining issues is at the bargaining table.” He said the companies remain committed to reaching an agreement that is good for both sides.
Geiger said that the companies want to reduce holiday pay, hold wages at current rates, and cut paid sick days and health-care plans. He said the workers had no single “sticking point” but rather a “long list” of issues they’re concerned about.
A week ago, the companies withdrew a proposal to cut off employee health-care benefits if they work fewer than 30 hours a week, signaling some progress toward avoiding a strike, Geiger said.
Local grocery-store workers last went on strike in 1989. That strike went for 81 days, he said.
“We can’t afford to go on strike, but we can’t afford these proposed cuts,” said Ricke Egtvet, who has worked as a Safeway meat cutter for more than 20 years. “We have to stand up for those in the future.”
A strike would be “devastating” to the workers, said Kyong Barry, a checker at Albertson’s in Renton. “But there are some points where we have to stand up,” she said.
Geiger said the union doesn’t want a strike, and he hopes the threat will be enough to put pressure on the stores and force them to “fairly compensate” their employees.
He said it boils down to a simple question: “Do they want to spend the money on workers … or on the CEOs?”