Grocers, union reach deal at last minute to avert strike

21,000 union grocery workers still must approve tentative agreement

Staff writerOctober 22, 2013 

Roger Clark and his fiancée, Mary Stanton-Anderson, look at a sign at the Safeway entrance in University Place asking for workers as a precaution for a possible strike. But Puget Sound grocers reached a deal with the union two hours before the 7 p.m. Monday deadline.

LUI KIT WONG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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 p.m. the union member bargaining team from (United Food and Commercial Workers) 21 & 367 and Teamsters 38 reached a tentative agreement with the national grocery chains in contract negotiations,” the unions said in a prepared statement.

“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 unions said.

The grocers’ representative also confirmed the deal.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the unions that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees,” said Scott Powers of Allied Employers, which negotiated for the supermarket chains.

United Food and Commercial Workers spokesman Tom Geiger said the talks were especially intense in the last hour before the 5:06 p.m. agreement.

The unions will begin Tuesday scheduling meetings to brief members about the tentative package.

“All parties are pleased about this agreement,” he said.

Grocer and union representatives had spent a largely fruitless six months in prior negotiations trying to craft a deal before last-hour 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 nonunion 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 said they sought modest improvements to wages and benefits.

Before the 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, Red Apple, Top Food and Thriftway have signed “me too” agreements to accept whatever deal the unions make with the major grocers.

Earlier, at the stores that would have faced a strike, some shoppers said they would have supported the strike while others said they would not.

At a South 19th Street Tacoma Fred Meyer on 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.”

Grocery 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 would 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.

on the web

Go online for updates on union ratification of a new contract at thenews tribune.com.

Staff writers C.R. Roberts and Eva Revear contributed to this report.

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