A potential strike might not just hit King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, said union representative Tom Geiger. "There are grocery workers now in Thurston and Mason Counties that have had contracts expire, and there's over a thousand workers down in those stores there that are going to be holding a strike authorization vote throughout the day on Tuesday." (AP Photo/File)

Movement in grocery talks, but may not be enough to prevent strike

A big contract issue on the table in the grocery workers appears to no longer be part of the discussion, but union officials said Monday the two sides remain far apart and the latest movement might not be enough to prevent a possible strike.

Representatives said the proposal to drastically cut back who's eligible for company health care benefits is now off the table. QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons had wanted to restrict the company health plan to workers who logged 30 hours a week or more. Right now, people working as little as 16 hours a week can qualify for the company plan.

The unions say while that proposal is gone, the employers health proposal is "still unacceptable because it would result in cuts to benefits," said union representative Tom Geiger with United Food and Commercial Workers local 21. "These are the same benefits that the employers agreed to in 2010 during the greatest economic recession of our lifetime," he said of the impasse.

Grocery workers could strike at any time, once they give three days notice, which they have yet to do.

Geiger said the companies need to make some movement on other issues in the contract as well, like keeping time and a half pay on holidays and wage increases.

The unions and the stores have been preparing for a possible strike. The unions have strike schedules drawn up and strike captains ready to lead the charge. Stores are hiring replacement workers and making other preparations.

Shoppers are caught in the middle. A shopper outside the University Village QFC doesn't think a strike will happen.

"It would be a hard line, particularly at this time of year," she said. "I hope they could meet some terms that they can all agree to. I'm sorry it comes to that. I don't know who's right or who's wrong."

Many shoppers are deciding how they would handle a potential walkout.

"I would stock up," another QFC shopper said. "I'd rather stock up than cross the line," said a shopper who belongs to another labor union.

And a potential strike might expand beyond King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, said Geiger.

"There are grocery workers now in Thurston and Mason counties that have had contracts expire, and there are over a thousand workers down in those stores there that are going to be holding a strike authorization vote throughout the day on Tuesday."

Both sides plan to continue talking to try and avoid a strike.

The group "Stand With Our Checkers" created a map of alternative grocery stores (below) of "home grown local union employers" that won't face strikes.

Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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