Tentative deal dodges grocery strike

A strike by thousands of workers at four major grocery chains was averted Monday when the two sides announced a tentative agreement on a new multi-year contract.

A day-long bargaining session culminated with a handshake at 5 p.m. to prevent the walkout by 21,000 employees of Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons stores in Snohomish County and five other counties.

Checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other employees had earlier overwhelmingly endorsed launching the strike at 7 p.m. Monday had no deal been reached.

Many of those employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers regional locals 21 and 367 and Teamsters Local 38 in Everett had spent the past few days painting signs and preparing to walk a picket line. The total included 2,127 union workers in Snohomish County.

“Things have been intense for months. They were intense down to the wire,” said union spokesman Tom Geiger. “The signs were in the trunks. Things were as close as it can get.”

Instead, the two sides applauded the pact, which avoids the first grocery strike in the region since 1989. That walkout lasted 81 days.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the unions that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees,” read a statement issued by Scott Powers, vice president of Allied Employers in Kirkland. Powers served as lead negotiator for the grocers.

Representatives of the unions and grocery store chains declined to discuss details of the deal. Geiger said the contract language needs to be written up and then voted on by workers at yet-to-be-scheduled meetings.

Union leaders are unanimously recommending its ratification.

Grocery store workers across Snohomish, King, Kitsap and Pierce counties had been in contract negotiations since March with representatives of the four major grocers. Late last month, they voted to authorize a strike.

Earlier this month, another 1,000 UFCW members in Thurston and Mason counties voted to walk off the jobs after their contract expired without an agreement.

During the negotiations, union officials said the companies were proposing to stop providing health care coverage for part-time employees working less than 30 hours a week and to reduce pay for those who work on holidays. They also claimed the companies offered “essentially no wage increases for another three years.”

Geiger declined to speak about any of those specific items.

On Friday, union leaders gave the companies 72-hour notice of their intent to strike. The advance notice is required under the contract extension under which the employees are working.

Workers and supporters held numerous rallies throughout the weekend as they counted down the hours to a walkout that they now apparently won’t carry out.

“Everybody was very tired when this was done,” Geiger said. “Giving that notice on Friday was an important step.”

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

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