After negotiating off and on for some six months, unions representing some 21,000 Puget Sound-area grocery workers and representatives of four major grocery chains are hoping that one more effort can prevent a strike.
The two sides met Thursday at a King County location to try to put together an agreement that has eluded them for months. No results from that session had been made public by Thursday evening.
As negotiations resumed Thursday morning many issues remained to be resolved despite some movement over the weekend on pensions and health care, said the unions' spokesman, Tom Geiger.
Wages, holidays, hours and other benefits remained on the table.
If those efforts prove fruitless, said Geiger, union workers could go on strike early next week. The unions and the stores by mutual agreement have to give 72 hours of warning before declaring that the contract extension under which they've operated is ended.
That decision to go on strike won't be made lightly because once a strike begins it is unlikely to end quickly.
The last grocery workers strike in the Puget Sound area occurred in 1989 when workers were on the picket lines for 81 days. A grocery workers' strike in Southern California in 2003 and 2004 lasted five months.
Striking workers will receive an average of $100 in weekly strike benefits from their union locals and $100 from the international union.
The workers would picket Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer stores in Pierce, King, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap and Snohomish counties if the agreement isn't forthcoming.
The unions involved, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters, have told their members to ramp up their strike preparations.
Meanwhile, the stores involved have been advertising for workers to replace the clerks and stockers who may walk off the jobs.
The Teamsters Union has said it will honor the grocer workers' picket lines potentially cutting off or slowing down resupply of goods to the struck stores.
If workers do strike, they won't strike independent grocers such as Metropolitan Market, Red Apple and Thriftway that employ union workers. Those grocers have what are called "me too" agreements that call for them to agree to similar contracts as the big chains.
Several other grocers including Wal-Mart, Winco and Whole Foods are non-union and won't be affected directly by a strike.
If the strike happens, picketing union members will hand out brochures to potential customers directing them to other stores not affected by the dispute.
The unions say employer proposals to freeze wages, cut holiday pay and trim benefits are unacceptable.
The grocers say they need cost savings to compete with non-union stores and to pay rising benefit costs.