SEATTLE — Unions representing about 21,000 grocery workers in the Puget Sound region gave official notice Friday night that they will strike four major chains — Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer — in 72 hours if a new contract agreement is not reached beforehand.
Under that timetable, employees will walk off the job at 7 p.m. Monday.
Tom Geiger, who represents Local 21 of United Food and Commercial Workers, made the announcement to the media at 7:15 p.m. Friday. He said the notice to the grocery stores was effective at 7 p.m. The unions involved include the UFCW Local 21 and Local 367 and Teamsters Local 38.
Geiger said the companies’ proposals for a new three-year contract have sought to freeze pay, reduce holiday pay and other benefits.
“We do not want a strike,” Geiger said at a news conference. “Hopefully tonight we will see a turnaround (in the companies’ negotiating stance) and in the next 72 hours, serious bargaining will take place.”
If not, workers will picket the four major grocery store chains in King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap and Snohomish counties.
In addition, the Teamsters union, whose truckers deliver much of the products to the stores, said they will honor the grocery workers’ picket lines. Meanwhile, the stores have been taking online applications for replacement workers.
“Tonight the unions gave us 72 hours notice of their intent to terminate the involved labor agreements,” said Scott Powers, a spokesman for Allied Employers, which represents the four major grocery chains. “This does not change the fact that the only way to work through the remaining issues is at the bargaining table. These companies remain focused and committed to reach an agreement that is good for our associates, providing them a solid compensation package of pay and benefits; and good for the companies, too, so they can be competitive and continue to provide good, stable jobs. We remain focused on those important objectives.”
Last month, 98 percent of union members voted to authorize a strike. Their contracts expired in May. Since then, the union and grocery chains have been battling over a new three-year contract.
The companies’ proposal would reduce holiday pay, hold wages at current rates and have part-time workers get health benefits through Obamacare.
The last grocery workers strike in the Puget Sound area, in 1989, lasted 81 days, Geiger said.