Pandemic hardships prompt Western WA grocery workers to bargain for improved store safety

Apr 26, 2022, 6:28 AM | Updated: 9:33 am


Safeway at Seattle's Wallingford Neighborhood (Flickr Creative Commons)

(Flickr Creative Commons)

Grocery workers across Western Washington are bargaining for more than just wage hikes: frontline employees with Safeway, Kroger, and Albertsons in the Puget Sound area are poised to secure themselves added workplace safety measures, prompted by dual threats of growing property theft and COVID-19.

A year-end 2021 crime report, compiled and released by the Seattle Police Department, details a 9% increase in property theft year over year.

Workers with those large grocery outlets, represented by UFCW 3,000 — a union of more than 50,000 grocery, retail, and healthcare workers throughout the Pacific Northwest — are seeing that uptick firsthand.

A Fred Meyer grocer and member of UFCW 3,000 Bryan Gilderoy recounted incidents of smash and grab robberies and attempted arson at his location. He and his coworkers did not have the proper training for what to do in those events, creating a general feeling of unease and uncertainty when faced with a crime.

“There were no off-duty officers who could handle those situations. That was stressful for us,” Gilderoy told MyNorthwest.

“Now we have language inside the contract to where we can get those people training on what they do in incidents like this. Then we can have actionable language inside the contract. So if the companies fail to train, we can meet with them and say, ‘hey, you failed here.’ ”

While the contract still needs to be ratified, a draft copy of the agreement obtained by MyNorthwest adds committee teams to grocery locations to escalate issues of security and training failings in stores, as well as establish legally binding safety protocols.

The agreement also tacks on real wage improvements that amount to $4.86 through March of 2023, which the union describes t as “historic.”

Added wages for Seattle-area grocery workers have been highlighted in recent months and years with the Seattle City Council’s decision to mandate hazard pay bonuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. UFCW’s agreement would surpass the $4 an hour hazard pay set for by the council.

With divisive vote, Seattle council upholds grocery worker hazard pay ordinance

“Essential workers throughout the entire grocery industry have put in a lot of heart, effort, and time away from their families, at a time when we’re scared the most about bringing home a pandemic to our families, to get people’s groceries on the tables and their needs met,” Gilderoy continued.

“This is been essential for us to get the wage increases that we feel that we deserve … It’s been hard for every single grocery worker, myself included, throughout this pandemic.”

The union claims that the agreement narrowly dodged a picket set for April 26, although a strike vote had not been authorized through UFCW.

The agreement is subject to ratification through April 28, the results of which will be posted Friday. Were it passed, it would affect active members of UFCW 3000, grocery store workers in King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Mason, and Thurston Counties at the big chains (Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, and QFC), and independent stores covered by the tentative agreement.

“The strategic coordination between the UFCW grocery store workers … began in early 2020 as COVID hit our communities and stores. Efforts to gain some important safety protections, access to vaccines, and hazard pay were made possible by this coordinated effort,” a news release from UFCW reads.

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Pandemic hardships prompt Western WA grocery workers to bargain for improved store safety