2 weeks of voting next for grocery workers

Details of deal not public until union leaders talk to their rank and file

Staff writerOctober 23, 2013 

Puget Sound union grocery workers will decide over the next two weeks whether to accept a new contract proposal from four major grocers or head back to the bargaining table.

That tentative three-year agreement was reached Monday night a little less than two hours before those workers were due to strike more than 150 Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer and QFC stores in six Western Washington counties.

Tom Geiger, a union spokesman, said Tuesday that union officials were scrambling to schedule more than a dozen meetings throughout the region to brief union workers on the proposed deal.

“We’re trying to find locations and times that will make it easy for all of our members to attend,” he said. “Many of them work different shifts.”

Those workers will vote whether to accept the deal at those meetings. A simple majority of those voting will be sufficient to approve the contract.

Until those meetings happen, the three union locals involved — United Food and Commercial Workers locals 21 and 367 and Teamsters Local 38 — aren’t revealing the details of the pact even to members.

The unions are withholding details of the contract proposal because they don’t want to present those details without an opportunity to explain how the contract will work and why agreements were made, said the unions’ spokesman.

Once the ratification process is finished, Geiger said, specifics of the contract will be made public.

The unions and the grocers negotiated off and on for more than six months in an attempt to find common ground for a new contract, but they made little progress. Talks continued last weekend and Monday after the unions gave the grocers 72 hours’ notice of a strike.

“We had more than 150 picket captains with signs in their cars ready to lead the walkout and to begin the strike,” said Geiger.

The contract proposal largely came together in the last hour or so before the agreement announcement, union officials said.

Grocers had originally sought to cut wages, health care, holiday pay and other benefits to keep costs competitive with nonunion stores such as Walmart and Winco. The unions had sought what they said were modest improvements in wages and benefits.

Union officials say they expect that with the unanimous endorsement from their bargaining teams the contract will be approved.

Independent union grocers have agreed to accept similar contracts. The contract proposal covers Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer and QFC stores in Pierce, Thurston, King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Mason counties.

The contract provisions will be retroactive to the expiration date of the prior contracts.

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