Last-minute progress appears to have averted grocery strike

Staff writerOctober 21, 2013 

As the countdown clock ticked toward a 7 p.m. deadline, negotiators for four major Puget Sound grocery chains and their 21,000 union workers Monday night reached a preliminary agreement on a new contract.

“We are very pleased to announce that today at 5 PM the union member bargaining team from UFCW 21 & 367 and Teamsters 38 reached a tentative agreement with the national grocery chains in contract negotiations,” the unions said on their Facebook page.

”This tentative agreement has been unanimously recommended by the union member bargaining team. Details will not to be released until after union members themselves have had the opportunity to review the tentative agreement and vote on it. The times and locations of those vote meetings will be announced in the coming days after arrangements have been made to schedule the votes.

The Associated Press also reported a deal was reached.

Grocer and union representatives had spent a largely fruitless six months in prior negotiations trying to craft a deal before last-minute negotiations yielded a tentative agreement.  

The agreement averted the first widespread strike among Western Washington grocery workers since 1989. The tentative agreement sets wages, benefits and working conditions at more than 150 Safeways, Albertsons, Fred Meyers and QFCs in six Puget Sound counties.

No details of the new agreement were immediately available. Union members will have to ratify the deal to put it into effect.

Talk of a strike had been public for more than two months as unions and the grocers sought public sympathy for their plight and as they rallied support from the consumers and other unions.

Talks continued through the weekend even after the unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters Union, gave a 72-hour notice of their intent to strike Monday.

Both sides had agreed that much remained to be settled when the strike notice was given.

The grocers, who say they’re under pressure from non-union chains and from rising health and benefit costs, sought to minimize their costs, initially proposing pay cuts, health care benefit exclusions and lesser benefits.

Unions claimed they sought modest improvements to wages and benefits.

Before settlement announcement Monday night, consumers stocked up on provisions either not wanting to cross picket lines or unsure that the substitute workers would be able to operate the stores smoothly.

The strike would have affected supermarkets in Pierce, King, Thurston, Snohomish, Kitsap and Mason counties. 

Smaller union markets such as Metropolitan Market, At the stores likely to be affected, some shoppers said they will support the strike while others said they won't.

At a South 19th Street Tacoma Fred Meyer Monday, Tammie Foster said she wouldn’t have altered her shopping habits because of a strike.

"I'm shopping right here where I always shop," she said.  "This is local. I am not driving out of my way to go somewhere else."

Grocer workers, she said, "are striking about something a lot of other people are already facing."

At a Hilltop neighborhood Safeway, Dan Hudspeth said he would have supported the strike despite the personal inconvenience it will cause.

"I don't like it," he said, "but I see where they (the union workers) are coming from. I came early to get in because I don't want to have to go to another store.  But I do have other options.  He said he would shop at Costco if necessary.

Staff writer Eva Revear contributed to this report.




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