Grocery store workers in Southwest Washington and Oregon have voted to authorize a strike if the workers’ union fails to reach a satisfying agreement with negotiators representing such stores as Fred Meyer, QFC, Safeway and Albertsons.
Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 voted in Baker City, Oregon, on Saturday night to authorize a strike. That vote concluded a series of 92 meetings held this summer across Oregon and Southwest Washington, according to Kelley McAllister, the union’s communications director. Members of the union voted nearly unanimously, McAllister says, to authorize a strike if needed.
That doesn’t mean a strike is inevitable, McAllister said, but it does give the Local 555 Unity Bargaining Team the power to call for a strike, increasing the pressure on the grocery chains to make a deal.
The two sides have been negotiating since June 2018, McAllister said, but workers and employers have yet to reach terms they both accept.
Though individual contracts vary in details, McAllister said wages have been a sticking point. “We’re really far apart from the employers,” McAllister said.
Fred Meyer has been posting negotiation updates online. The company’s offer, McAllister said, calls for proposed wage rate increases that are considerably smaller than what the union is looking for.
McAllister said the union is also seeking to help remedy gender-based pay disparities at Fred Meyer stores, as highlighted in a recent pay equity study published by Olympic Analytics, a Seattle-based firm that, according to its website, provides research, training and consulting services for labor unions, nonprofits and government agencies. The study, paid for by the union, found that women were more likely to occupy jobs in lower-paying departments.
“Grocery jobs used to be solidly middle-class jobs,” McAllister said. “As income inequity gets so much worse, we’re having many workers pushed to the brink of homelessness, as wages remain stagnant.”
There’s no hard-and-fast deadline for when a strike might be called, McAllister said. The next step is the upcoming negotiation session between the Unity Bargaining Team and the employers’ negotiators, which happens in Portland on Aug. 29.
Efforts to reach representatives from Fred Meyer and Safeway/Albertsons companies were unsuccessful Sunday.
In a statement posted to a Fred Meyer online site discussing the negotiations, the company said:
“We will continue to bargain in good faith and want a balanced contract — one that rewards you with increases in your pay, maintains premium affordable health care and a pension for your retirement. A fair and balanced agreement with our associates is critical to the health and success of the company.
We are all on the same team and want the same thing: A thriving, stable company that can provide employment with fair pay and with quality benefits for you and your family.”