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Grocery workers approve new 3-year contract

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Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU
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Sue Wilmot, a shop steward and member of the UFCW negotiating campaign that recommended approval of the contract offer. She is checker with Safeway on Bainbridge Island. Behind her, grocery workers check in for the vote in Seattle.

Unionized grocery workers in the region say they're glad they didn't have to go on strike.  But they say the threat of a massive walk out was what helped them get a new contract they could accept.  Votes tallied over the weekend show a resounding 95% approval.   

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kplu/local-kplu-938638.mp3

The contract covers about twenty five thousand grocery workers in King, Snohomish, Kitsap and North Mason counties.  Most work at the four big chains: QFC, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway – which were threatened with a big strike before Thanksgiving.  

QFC Deli worker Steve Freeman says the initial offer from his employer was insulting.  "The first contract – to me it was a garbage contract.  I was really disgusted that the company would do that."

He says they were proposing cuts to benefits as well as taking away extra pay for Sundays and holidays.  The offer they've just approved only cuts Sunday pay slightly for new hires.  And even though his premiums are going up, he says there are some improvements to his health care plan.

"They're actually making it a little better, it increased a little bit, but not much and I'm really happy – you know, really, really happy," he says.

Sue Wilmot is a checker at Safeway.  She's also part of the bargaining team that voted to recommend the contract to members.  Wilmot says the 94% strike authorization vote gave them the leverage they needed to get an acceptable offer. 

"From where we started this is a wonderful improvement. It's not everything we wanted, we had to compromise on some things. But, we've been able to keep our health benefits and our pension intact and get a little bit of a raise as well."

There's a signing bonus for everyone and a 25 cent an hour increase for those at the top of the pay scale.   Wilmot says the union's biggest loss is that they got no improvements to sick leave. 

Workers still won't get pay until the third day they're out, so she thinks many will still have to come to work sick.  That's a battle they'll have to take up in the next round of contract talks, two years from now. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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