Union food store workers will decide as soon as tonight whether to authorize a strike against the Puget Sound area's four largest grocery chains, but the potential impact on Pierce and Thurston county stores will be limited to their meat departments.
Some 25,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 have been voting this week on an offer from four major chains: Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer. Those votes are expected to be tallied tonight.
Those workers include most grocery employees working for those chains in the Puget Sound region, but only meat department employees in Pierce and Thurston counties.
Even if the strike authorization is approved, further consultation with the membership would be necessary to call a strike, said UFCW spokesman Tom Geiger.
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If those union members reject the contract offered by Allied Employers, which is bargaining on behalf of those chains, union bargainers hope that employers will be motivated to put a better offer on the table.
Allied Employers said the union walked away from bargaining; they didn’t.
“We think it’s premature to even be talking about a strike. Really what we need to do is get back to the bargaining table so we can resolve the issues,” said Allied Employers’ Scott Powers.
The union and the four chains have been in talks since March, but union spokesman Geiger said the employers have yet to present what the union bargaining committee considers an acceptable offer. The bargaining committee has recommended rejection of the offer on the table. The union’s contract expired April 30, but it has been extended several times to allow for further talks.
The present offer, according to Geiger, includes pay and benefit cutbacks.
The employers contend they need lower costs because consumers have cut back spending and are shopping for fewer high-margin items.
The union contends the stores have already economized by chopping workers’ hours. The average grocery worker at the four stores now works 28 hours a week, said Geiger.
The last major grocery strike in the Puget Sound area occurred in 1989. That strike lasted 81 days.
Customarily, if a strike is necessary, the union will target one chain to strike, said the union. The other stores typically react by locking out their union workers.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org