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Local Grocery Store Workers Vote to Authorize Strike

Bob B. Brown

With 98 percent of the votes, grocery store workers in the Puget Sound area authorized a strike on Thursday.

The union members said they're upset in part over cuts to health care in the latest offer from their employers. The workers added that a strike isn’t imminent; they hope to return to the bargaining table and reach an agreement that addresses their concerns.

The contract being negotiated covers about 30,000 workers. Most of them work for Fred Meyer, QFC, Albertsons, and Safeway in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties.

Tom Geiger, a spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, said the employers want to stop offering health coverage to employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, which would strip health insurance from at least 8,000 workers. Right now, the grocery stores offer health insurance to anyone who works 16 hours a week or more. 

Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab?

The Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care law, will require employers to offer health insurance to people who work 30 hours a week or more. Geiger said the grocery stores are using the law as an excuse to take away insurance from some people and have them buy coverage through Washington state's health exchange instead. Many will likely qualify for government subsidies. 

"What is the point of taking insured people and kicking them off an insurance plan? It’s only so these companies can make money," Geiger said. "And how do they make money? They’re making money because somebody else is paying the bill, and it’s the taxpayer. And we think that’s wrong." 

Scott Powers with Allied Employers is the lead negotiator for the supermarkets. In an interview last month, he said the grocery stores are operating in a very competitive environment against non-union companies that offer fewer benefits. Today, he issued a statement saying he hopes the two sides will now head back to the bargaining table and reach an agreement.

"A strike authorization vote is not unusual," he wrote. "The employers are focused on reaching agreement on a fair contract that is in the best interests of their associates, customers, and businesses."

The unions said they'd have to give a 72-hour advanced notice to their employers if they intend to go on strike. So far, they have not done that. 

In 1989, grocery store workers went on strike for 81 days in Seattle. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.