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Seattle-Area Grocery Workers Stage Informational Pickets

Grocery store workers in the Puget Sound region are stepping up pressure on their employers as they try to reach a contract deal. They’re staging informational pickets everywhere from Bremerton to Seattle, to Lynnwood this afternoon to get their message out to customers. 

The contract being negotiated covers about 30,000 employees of Fred Meyer, QFC, Albertsons, and Safeway. The stores are located in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties.

Daniel Comeau, with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 367 in Pierce County, says health care is the biggest issue in the contract talks. Comeau says the companies want to more than double the number of hours a worker would have to work each month in order to qualify for health insurance.

"The current proposals increase eligibility, or hours to get eligibility," Comeau said. "We estimate about 8,000 of those 30,000 workers, most likely more given the employers’ proposal, would be without health care under the current plan."

The companies say they’re doing this in response to the Affordable Care Act.

Scott Powers is with Allied Employers, the group negotiating the contract on behalf of the grocery stores. He says rival grocery store chains may reduce workers’ hours so they won’t be obligated to offer health insurance under the new law. Powers says that means Safeway and his other clients are at a disadvantage if they continue offering the same levels of health care that they do now.  

"If you owned a grocery store across the street from mine, and I was paying my part-time employees $5 an hour in addition to wages for health care, and you, in addition to wages, paid nothing for health care, that’s a huge competitive problem for me," Powers said. 

The two sides are bargaining over the next three weeks. A vote by workers is set for late September. 

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