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Puget Sound grocery workers reject contract, vote to authorize strike

One grocery store worker show has already cast her vote said no one wants to go out on strike, but something has to get the attention of those negotiating for Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons. (AP Photo/File)

On Thursday morning, thousands of grocery workers around Puget Sound voted to reject employers’ contract proposals and strike.

At a news conference, David Schmitz, president of UFCW local 21, said 98 percent of the grocery workers voted to strike.

“While these CEOs make millions, they propose that employees take cuts in pay, cuts in health care, cuts in retirement security, and other negative impacts on their quality of life,” said Schmitz. “That’s not how America was built. It’s not how it will prosper. It’s not how it will succeed, and we will never agree to such proposals.”

“I hope they come to their senses and make a fair proposal that respect me, my coworkers and our families, but if they don’t they need to know that we are ready and we will strike,” said Jesse Garouche, a Fred Meyer worker.

Lisa Ferguson has been a meat-cutter for Safeway in Tacoma for 20 years. She cast her vote to authorize a strike on Wednesday. She said there was no other option.

“We’ve been negotiating for four months, and they have not taken anything off the table,” she said. “They think that we are going to agree to have everything taken away. They’re offering us no raise. They haven’t even offered anything toward our pension. They’re offering us nothing. There’s nothing to vote other than no.”

She expected an overwhelming no vote. She said no one wants to go out on strike, but she said something has to get the attention of those negotiating for Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons.

“The hope on taking this strike vote is just to tell them, ‘We’re not taking this and you guys need to start bargaining,'” Ferguson said.

In a statement, the lead negotiator for the grocery stores said a strike authorization vote is not unusual. “The important thing is that we get back to the bargaining table and do the hard work of putting a negotiated settlement together. The employers are focused on reaching agreement on a fair contract that is in the best interests of their associates, customers and businesses,” said Scott Powers with Allied Employers, which represents Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and Safeway.

Negotiations are expected to resume Thursday. The issues in this contract are what you’d expect. Wages, seniority and benefits, but the health care issue seems to be the number one issue in these negotiations. The grocery stores want to provide health care to those working 30 hours or more.

Currently, employees can get family coverage when working as little as 20 hours a week. Most grocery store workers don’t work 30 hours.

Ferguson works 40 hours a week now, but she’s worried Safeway will simply cut back her hours so she won’t qualify for health care.

“I’ve paid into the health care system for the last 20 years, and it’s my turn to have it be there when I need it,” she said. “I just don’t understand why they would take it away from people who have always had it. It’s just appalling.”

Ferguson said workers are drawing a line in the sand, and they want the company CEO’s to take notice.

“They can get raises,” she said. “They can all have their cost of living, and yet they’re going to take everything away from us. The working people in America need to stand up. The time has come. We need to stand up and tell people in the corporate arena, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore.’ We deserve a living wage and we deserve to have health care.”

Now that workers have voted to authorize a strike, the earliest they could walk off the job is Sunday morning. There’s a 72-hour notice required to give the stores a chance to prepare.

The last grocery workers strike in Puget Sound was in 1989. It lasted 81 days.

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