It’s official as of today: Roughly 30,000 grocery workers across four Western Washington counties are one step closer to hitting the picket lines.
When that might happen is still anyone’s guess.
According to Local 367 Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Comeau, whose union represents grocery workers in Pierce County, recently tallied secret-ballot votes by union members in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties resulted in a 98-percent-strong statement to authorize a strike. All told the grocery workers - employed at area Safeways, Fred Meyers, QFCs and Albertson’s - are represented by three unions, all collectively bargaining with the employers on behalf of their members. As Seattle Weekly reported on Tuesday, Comeau says union members are unhappy with their latest contract proposals due to shortcomings in health care offerings for employees working under 30 hours a week, a lack of time-and-a-half pay on holidays, inadequate sick pay provisions and a lack of wage increases.
“Our goal is to get a fair contract, something our members can live with, and make a living off of,” Comeau told Seattle Weekly today. On Tuesday he classified the current contract proposal from local grocers as “disrespectful.”
While three unions - through one bargaining team - are collectively representing some 30,000 grocery workers in four counties, Comeau says Allied Employers represents each grocery chain individually – with union employees at Safeway receiving slightly different proposals than employees at Fred Meyer, for example. On Tuesday Comeau told Seattle Weekly that all of the proposals have been similar and “equally bad.” Today he said the three unions are operating “in solidarity.”
Though Comeau calls the 98 percent vote to authorize a strike “pretty resounding,” it is important to note that a strike isn’t necessarily imminent. As he mentioned Tuesday, Comeau expects more bargaining to happen between employers and grocery workers even in the aftermath of the strike authorization vote. It’s a sentiment backed up by a grocery store spokesperson paraphrased by the Associated Press as saying “the strike authorization vote is premature because neither side has put out a best and final offer.”
For Comeau and the union he speaks for, however, the idea that the strike authorization vote was premature is “hard to swallow.” He notes that negotiations have been ongoing for six months and, “We really haven’t made any progress.”
Comeau also notes that before any strike takes place law requires workers to provide 72-hours notice. Given the fact both sides seem to agree that more negotiations are in the cards - despite the fact no date for such negotiations has been set in stone at this point - Comeau says if there is a strike it could happen next week, or even next month.
“While we disagree that the strike vote is premature, since we’ve been at it for six months, we do anticipate that they’ll want to sit down and bargain,” says Comeau of what the future holds. He says future negotiations could happen “very soon.”
“The ball’s really in the employer’s court,” says Comeau of the current situation. “We hope they’re ready to bargain seriously.”