Barring a last-minute save, unions representing 21,000 grocery workers throughout Puget Sound are headed for a strike that would start Monday at 7 p.m.
Union leaders announced the possible strike Friday evening, following through on an agreement to give grocery chains 72 hours of advance notice. If the strike proceeds, workers for Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and QFC stores in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties would take part.
Union spokesman Tom Geiger spoke at an evening news conference in downtown Seattle, against the backdrop of a giant clock. He said talks, ongoing since March, haven't gone well so far.
"If we are forced to strike to move things forward, we will," he said. "Hopefully, tonight we'll see a big turnaround."
The announcement sets a countdown in motion, and raises the likelihood of the first grocery workers' strike in Puget Sound since 1989. According to Geiger's statement, the two sides are deadlocked on several points:
- a proposal to freeze wages for the next three years
- a proposal to end time-and-a-half pay for holiday work
- health benefits
Scott Powers, lead negotiator for the grocers, released a statement Friday addressing the standoff.
"Tonight the unions gave us 72 hours notice of their intent to terminate the involved labor agreements," Powers said. "This does not change the fact that the only way to work through the remaining issues is at the bargaining table. These companies remain focused and committed to reach an agreement that is good for our associates, providing them a solid compensation package of pay and benefits; and good for the companies too, so they can be competitive and continue to provide good, stable jobs."
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.
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.