Fry’s, Safeway, UFCW Prepare for Strike as Deadline Looms

Fry’s Food Stores and Safeway have signed a mutual strike assistance and lockout agreement in case the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 99 calls a strike against one of the supermarket operators in the Phoenix area. In the case of a strike against one, the other would look out its union workers. Local 99 has set a strike deadline of 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 — right before the normally profitable holiday season.

The workers’ latest labor contract expired last year, and an extension ran out at the end of October. The agreement between Fry’s and Safeway doesn’t prevent either company from independently entering into a settlement with the union.

“Fry’s signed this agreement to protect our companies, our customers and our employees’ jobs in the event of a union strike,” explained JoEllen Lynn, director of public and community affairs for Tolleson, Ariz.-based Fry’s, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger with 120 stores in Arizona. Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway has about 116 stores in the state. The two operators employ a combined 25,000 employees.

Both Fry’s and Safeway have begun making contingency plans to keep their stores open in the event of a strike, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. During the past week, Fry's has hired over 5,000 temporary workers and is also flying in hundreds of Kroger managers to work in the stores in the event of a strike or lockout.

"[A]s the union's imposed strike deadline approaches, we are taking the responsible course for our company and our employees to make all the necessary preparations," noted Lynn.

“The best outcome for everyone, especially our associates, is an agreement,” she said. “We hope the union will allow members a chance to vote on our proposal,” which Lynn characterized as "good ... in a very difficult local economy." Fry's hand the union have been in talks since October 2008.

At issue are salary and benefit terms, in particular whether new hires should pay a $5 to $15 weekly co-premium toward their health care costs. The associates currently pay nothing for their health insurance coverage. According to the Arizona Republic, some unhappy union workers have held anti-strike rallies in an attempt to head off the walkout, which they feel would have a disastrous effect on employees already affected by a shaky economy. If a strike were called, union members would get just $100 a week in strike pay, the publication pointed out.

At presstime, Local 99 leaders and staff were scheduled meet at the Airport Marriott in Phoenix last evening with the union’s Negotiations Advisory Committee to get ready for the potential strike against either Fry’s or Safeway, or both. Also slated to attend were leaders of the UFCW International Union, presidents of UFCW local unions from across North America and representatives of Local 99’s union allies in the Food & Drug Council. Additionally, a convoy of trucks from various regions of the country by Teamsters members was scheduled to be in the hotel parking lot as a show of union solidarity. At the meeting, the union planned to train picket captains, put together picket signs and make other preparations.

A convoy of trucks driven from various regions of the country by members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was scheduled to be in the parking lot as a demonstration of union solidarity.
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