By Polly Keary, Editor
Grocery workers held an informational picket at three Monroe grocery stores Wednesday night as union negations with store ownership bogged down over issues including proposed cuts to health care and holiday pay.
The demonstrations at Fred Meyer, Albertson’s and Safeway were among 38 separate pickets held that day throughout King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties.
Workers represented by UFCW 21, UFCW 367 and Teamsters 38 have been negotiating new contracts since March, but the process has stalled over disputes involving health care, sick days and holiday pay.
“The top priority for many who work in groceries is the health benefits they have,” said Tom Geiger, Communications Director of UFCW 21. “The proposals would eliminate the ability to even be eligible if you are working 30 hours or less. That’s a serious thing in an industry in which many if not most are part-time workers.”
Also, the unions are asking for sick pay for all workers, but the companies are resistant, said Geiger.
“The response has been to deny paid sick days for people who handle food every day,” said Geiger. “That concerns us.”
And the companies are proposing a change to holiday pay that doesn’t sit well with many workers.
“Right now, currently people get time-and-a-half for working on holidays, and that somewhat compensates them for not being able to spend Christmas Day with their kids, or their mom on Thanksgiving Day,” said Geiger. “They are proposing to eliminate that extra rate and offer instead an extra dollar an hour. So, say, if someone worked a six-hour shift-most shifts are less than 8 hours-you drive there, you drive back, you spend the day away from your family, and you are six bucks ahead.”
This is the second round of pickets; the first series of a dozen was held in July.
The possibility of a strike is actually growing, said Geiger.
Votes have been scheduled for the end of September about whether to approve a contract or authorize a strike. The unions represent about 30,000 workers in the region.