Grocery workers voting on strike authorization

Unions are to announce Thursday whether about 20,000 grocery workers in metropolitan Puget Sound are willing to strike to secure a new contract.

For four days, workers in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties have been voting on a strike authorization. The results were to be released Thursday morning in Seattle.

Grocery store workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers locals 21 and 367 and by Teamsters Local 38 in Everett have been in contract negotiations since March with representatives of Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons.

They conducted informational picketing outside stores in Snohomish County in July and August. If a strike is authorized, the union must give an employer 72 hours notice before a walkout could begin.

Union officials say the companies are seeking to cease health-care coverage for employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week and to reduce pay for work on holidays. The companies are not offering an increase in hourly wages, the union leaders said.

The lead negotiator for the companies said unions commonly pursue a strike authorization in bargaining but it “doesn’t create any magic” to reaching agreement.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a strike,” said Scott Powers, vice president of Allied Employers in Kirkland, which represents the firms. “We prepare for a labor dispute like we plan for any business emergency, so we can continue to serve our customers.”

The current contract expired in May but has been extended indefinitely.

In 2010, workers in the same unions authorized a strike but did not walk off the job. The last grocery strike in the region took place in 1989 and lasted nearly three months.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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