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Some Washington State Grocery Workers Settle, Others Fight on

TACOMA, Wash. - Sixty percent of the more than 4,500 grocery clerks and meat cutters belonging to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 367, based here, voted last week to accept a three-year contract with Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons, the major supermarket chains in the region. QFC and Fred Meyer are both owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.

"The employers believe that the new contract will enable them to remain competitive in the Puget Sound area while maintaining quality wages and benefits for their employees," the companies said in a statement.

The contract was the same one that 12,000 Seattle-area workers who are members of UFCW Locals 1105, 81, 381 and 44, and Teamsters Local 38 voted for Aug. 15.

However, workers at independents Haggen-Top Food, Mega Foods, Saars Marketplace, Stadium Thriftway, Metropolitan Market, Summit Trading, and Bonney Lake Supermarket said "no" to the contract, according to union officials, although Haggen-Top Food and Bonney Lake meat cutters accepted it.

Jim McGuiness, secretary/treasurer of UFCW 367, told Progressive Grocer, "The substance of the [supermarket chains'] offer accounted for how [the workers at the independents] cast their vote," adding that he couldn't explain it any other way. The ratification process was "very difficult" for everyone involved, he noted, citing the slim margin by which approval was gained (60 percent for grocery clerks, as mentioned above, and 57 percent for meat cutters). The upshot, he surmised, was that those who voted against the contract "didn't like what they saw."

McGuiness added, however, that the union had already begun discussing the situation with the affected employers by phone, "making some headway" with a few of them. There was even a good possibility of getting a revote with some of the independents, he said.

The employees who OK'd the contract got salary increases but accepted the supermarket companies' proposal that they start paying for a portion of their health care insurance costs.

Teresa Iverson, president of UFCW Local 367, said in a statement: "The membership has made the decision to accept this new contract, and we have pledged to them that we are committed to preparing for the future. This fight is far from over. The fight for affordable health care and livable wages is a universal issue and does not stop with this contract. We will educate, unite, and prepare our membership, and we will be stronger for it."

-- Bridget Goldschmidt
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