Update at 3:30 p.m. Friday: Both sides will head to the bargaining table on Oct. 10 and 11.
Not long after 30,000 union grocery store workers authorized a strike, at least one of the large employers posted signs looking for their replacements.
Fred Meyer says it is “now taking applications for employment due to a potential work stoppage.”
The store, owned by Kroger, pays up to $12 per hour for the clerk jobs and lists these three qualifications:
Minimum 18 years of age
No experience necessary
Willing to cross a picket line
If grocery workers walk away from their jobs, will you cross the picket lines and shop at QFC, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway?
“We all need to eat,” says a shopper named Mark outside a Ballard Fred Meyer. “What choice do we have? I’ll still go to this store to pick up groceries.”
“There aren’t many options, are there?” says Melanie who’s been going to Safeway for years. “I’m not going to start going to one of the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or something. That’s too expensive.”
Union members are unhappy with their latest contract proposals due to changes in health care offerings for employees working under 30 hours a week. Other issues include a lack of time-and-a-half pay on holidays, a general lack of raises, and what they say is “inadequate” sick leave provisions.
Three unions are collectively representing grocery workers in four counties. Before any strike takes place law requires workers to provide 72-hours notice. Negotiations are expected to continue.
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, Schmitz says. “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.”
“The important thing is that we get back to the bargaining table and do the hard work of putting a negotiated settlement together,” says Scott Powers with Allied Employers, which represents the grocery chains involved.
The last grocery strike in the area was in 1989, before social media helped unite employees in the region. Now Facebook and Twitter pages have popped up, with workers explaining their side of the story and trying to get direct support from customers.
One called “Stand with Our Checkers” on Facebook encourages shoppers to pose with their favorite grocery clerk before the strike. They’re then encouraged to post the pictures and describe what they like about their favorite grocery checkers.
“I won’t cross the line,” says Vern, who’s 78. “That’s why I’m here today. I’m stocking up for weeks.”
Vern says his job during high school was as a grocery bag boy.
“I live alone and I don’t eat much so I can make that sacrifice for my fellow clerks,” he says.
By LINDA THOMAS
KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan contributed to this report