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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 14, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 24
Grocery workers demand a fair contract
Section One
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Grocery workers demand a fair contract

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

At a meeting with a score of community organizations, representatives of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 21 and 367, and the Teamsters union announced plans for their 2013 grocery contract campaign. Together the two unions represent some 30,000 grocery store employees in Western Washington.

Hosted by UFCW Local 21 at its Georgetown headquarters, the June 12 meeting brought members of the unions' bargaining committee together with community supporters to discuss the progress of contract negotiations to date.

Current negotiations involve only the region's 'big three' grocery giants: Kroger (which owns QFC and Fred Meyer), Safeway, and Albertson's. Independent grocery stores that also have union contracts typically sign agreements similar to those made with the big chains.

HOLIDAY PAY CUT PROPOSED
While many contract details are not yet on the bargaining table, what employers are offering at this point is unacceptable, union members said.

'We haven't even seen [the employers'] economic proposals, and there's already pay cuts on the table,' UFCW 21 staffer Faye Guenther said at the meeting.

One of the most controversial proposals from management is to eliminate time-and-a-half for holiday pay, and instead pay only $1 more per hour. Many grocery workers volunteer to work holidays only because of the time-and-a-half pay, union members said, because the extra money helps make up for working less than full-time hours.

HEALTH CARE CUTBACKS
Workers said that employers are not scheduling them for a full 40-hour week, and in some cases are even cutting back hours to less than 30 per week. Union members pointed out that under the Affordable Care Act, or 'Obamacare,' employers would not be required to supply health insurance for employees working less than 30 hours per week.

According to UFCW 21 spokesperson Tom Geiger, at a bargaining session that same day, the employers' representatives in fact proposed to eliminate health insurance for employees working less than 30 hours per week.

Workers also said they often do not know till the end of one week what their work schedule for the next week will be, making it almost impossible for them to schedule the second jobs they need to make up for short hours at the grocery store.

LOW WAGES
According to the UFCW, fully one-third of grocery workers in Washington make less than $10 an hour. Their current contract calls for new employees to start at 10 cents above minimum wage, and many fear that employers will even try to cut that back.

'I'm just getting by, and I'm on my own,' Teamsters member and QFC employee Ann Painter said. 'I wonder how [other employees] make it with families.'

UFCW 21 President Dave Schmitz recalled that in the 2010 contract campaign, 'employers were hell-bent on taking advantage of the economic situation - we should call it a depression, not a recession - to gut the contract.

'We organized more than 240 store actions and we won a 94% strike vote,' he continued. At that time, employers returned to the bargaining table and no strike was necessary, Schmitz added, but 'we are doing organizing work to build support within our stores in the same way we did in 2010.'

UFCW 21, in addition to being the largest private-sector union in the state, is noted for its aggressive political program, weighing in on the side of many progressive causes. The union was one of the leading forces pushing Seattle's Paid Sick Days Ordinance and was also a strong supporter of Referendum 74, even hosting the marriage-equality campaign in its headquarters.

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