Unions formalize agreement with area grocers

Wage increases, retention of health benefits among settlement details viewed as victories by store employees

Staff writerNovember 1, 2013 

United Food and Commercial Worker union employee Elena Perez, right, embraces colleague Steve Williamson near a "countdown clock" for a strike deadline after a tentative agreement was announced Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, in Seattle. Spokesmen for both sides in contract negotiations that brought 21,000 Puget Sound-area grocery workers to the brink of a strike say a tentative agreement has been reached that prevents a threatened walkout at four major grocery chains.

AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON

After an overwhelming vote to strike, after picket signs were printed and after a last-minute settlement arrived within less then two hours of a stop-work deadline — and then after a contract vote taken earlier this week — the unions representing grocery workers in the Puget Sound area have formalized an agreement.

Their long struggle is over, said a union representative, and victory is the result.

The settlement affects union workers at Albertsons, Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC stores in Western Washington, as well as union workers at independent markets including Metropolitan Market, Thriftway and others.

“This was a long negotiation,” said spokesman Tom Geiger, who spoke on behalf of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Locals 21 and 367, and Teamsters Local 38.

“It was difficult, and unfortunately it went right up to the brink. It would have affected over 200 stores and 21,000 workers in six counties, and a total of 30,000 with outlying counties,” he said. “This is a big win for grocery store workers in the community.”

“I thought it was good. I thought it was fair,” said University Place Albertsons customer service representative Terri Hardin on Thursday.

“Compared to what they were giving us, it was worth the fight,” she said.

“I was happy they didn’t take anything away from us,” said Holly Hudson, a supervisor at the South 56th Street Safeway in South Tacoma.

“I’m really happy that they didn’t take anything away from us, and I hope that things continue going forward for the employees that will come after us. I’m glad we can keep this as a good place to work,” she said.

A spokesman for Allied Employers, which represents the grocery owners, offered a statement Thursday that said, in part, “We are pleased to continue to provide good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees. The ratified agreements cover employees working in King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, Mason, and Thurston Counties. The unions have scheduled votes for other Western Washington counties for later this month.”

Among the contract details released Thursday:

 • The contract does not include a proposal to eliminate health care coverage for all part-time workers, nor does it include a proposal to increase what workers would pay for health care. Health care benefits were not cut, Geiger said. “There were no increases for deductibles or out-of-pocket costs.”

 • The contract does not include an earlier proposal to cut holiday pay nor a proposal “to essentially freeze the pay for grocery store workers for three years.”

“We not only got the wage increases for the people at the top, but one of the things I’m most proud of, we were able to get it for the people at the bottom of the scale,” Geiger said.

An earlier report said entry-level workers will earn 10 cents above the minimum wage, which will rise to $9.32 on Jan. 1. Clerks at the journeyman level will stay at the current hourly rate of $19.20 until May 4, when their pay will rise 1.3 percent to $19.45, with an additional 1.3 percent due in May, 2015.

 • Concerning pensions, Geiger said, “We got the big chains to agree to pay tens of millions of dollars to secure our pensions plans — both for meat department and grocery store workers.”

The contract will run for three years, and the details are retroactive to the original expiration date last May, Geiger said.

One issue that remains concerns the thousands of picket signs that were printed but not used.

“Maybe we’ll be able to use them again,” Geiger said Thursday. “At the last minute, those were all ready to go. People might keep them as mementos.”

The Seattle Times contributed to this report. C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 c.r.roberts@ thenewstribune.com

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