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UFCW, Other Groups Stage Massive Demonstration in Front of NoCal Safeways

SAN FRANCISCO - More than 30 union, community, and religious groups are joining grocery workers from across Northern California in a huge demonstration against every Safeway store in the Bay Area, a total of 38 units. Hundreds of people are expected outside of every Safeway location in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley, from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. PDT, asking shoppers to sign pledges of support for supermarket associates.

According to a union statement, the action comes in response to a "strong message" from Safeway and other retailers that they intend to seek a two-tier system and health insurance cuts in the Bay Area. Similar proposals have figured in labor talks across the United States. Opponents of such health insurance proposals say they could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, since associates deemed ineligible for health insurance would be forced to rely on government assistance.

Among the supporters slated to participate are representatives from SEIU, AFSCME, Teamsters, ILWU, NAACP, St. Boniface Church, A. Philip Randolph Institute, and UC Berkeley students, the union says. At stores in San Jose and San Francisco, religious, community, and labor leaders are scheduled to hold press conferences.

UFCW Matthew Hardy told Progressive Grocer that the boycott/pledge-signing event is "an expansion of what we were doing earlier," citing a similar demonstration last month. He expressed the hope that many more such events would follow, as a way of showing the grocery industry that the union was "very serious about organizing the community." He characterized the response from store customers as "overwhelmingly positive," explaining that "no one wants to have a strike, but they do understand" the critical issues facing grocery workers.

Hardy added that negotiations with area market leader Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger were currently ongoing, and that he had just learned that the retailers would reveal the "meat" of their health and welfare proposals soon.

In other labor news, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 said yesterday that there would not be a Colorado Grocery workers strike over Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, the 17,000 unionized workers in the state will ask the federal mediator to bring Safeway, King Soopers, and Albertson’s corporate negotiators back to the bargaining table one more time.

"Think of this as a Thanksgiving present from Colorado grocery workers to every shopper in Colorado," said union spokesperson Dave Minshall. As the grocery chains make a large share of their profits over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day, a strike would be most effective over the holidays, he noted.

Workers in Colorado Springs and Denver had voted on the "last, best, and final" contract proposal from the chains and seemed to be in favor of a strike when UFCW International president Joe Hansen halted the vote last week. That vote is now void.

Hansen said, "I am requesting [that] a federal mediator bring the parties together and use the collective bargaining process to reach an equitable result to our members."

The Colorado associates continue to receive the same benefits and wages as under their old contract.

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