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How Obamacare is playing into potential grocery strike

The employees that stock your groceries might go on strike - and a large part of their negotiations may come down to health care. (AP Photo/File)

Trader Joe’s did it last month. Home Depot did it last week. Part time employees who work less than 30 hours a week are being kicked off their health care plans, and they say the businesses claim the reason is Obamacare.

That issue is playing into the potential strike by grocery workers in Puget Sound.

Over 30,000 union grocery workers are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike against Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and QFC, and their health care coverage is the major issue.

Currently, workers can get individual health care if they work 16 hours a week or family coverage for only 20 hours a week.

The stores want to raise that threshold to 30 hours a week, falling in line with the federal mandate under Obamacare. Only those working full time, or 30 or more hours a week, would be eligible for company health care.

Scott Powers represents Allied Employers, which is bargaining for these major grocers. He said Obamacare is factoring into their decisions. “It’s added a whole layer of complication,” he said.

Non-union grocers like Trader Joe’s, and other smaller regional chains have already made similar moves, kicking their employees in the federal or state health care exchanges, to save money.

“Every day in the news cycle you hear of another company coming out with how they’re going to address that,” Powers said. “It’s just that our employees are unionized so we’re working through those issues at the bargaining table.”

Powers said it’s also about competitiveness. Non-union groceries might get an edge since they won’t be paying those healthcare costs.

But Tom Geiger with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, local 21, said the Obamacare reasoning is a smoke screen. “Obamacare has nothing to do with what these employers are proposing,” he said. “They say it does, but it doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

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