By Mike Andrew
With less than 90 minutes left before grocery workers walked off the job at Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and Albertson’s employers reached a tentative agreement in a contract battle that had dragged on for more than six months.
Had tentative agreement not been reached, 30,000 workers would have walked out of almost 90 stores in Western Washington on October 21, bringing normal operations of the retail giants to a halt.
The agreement must now be ratified by union members, but their negotiating team has recommended unanimously that workers accept the contract.
Details of the settlement will not be released until it has been ratified, but union leaders and rank-and-file negotiators seemed both pleased and relieved when they appeared at an impromptu celebration in Westlake Park.
UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) Local 21 President Dave Schmitz beamed as he embraced union members and supporters, and the union’s negotiating team danced in the middle of the plaza.
UFCW 21 is the largest of the three unions involved in the negotiations, the others being UFCW 367 and Teamsters 38. The unions had occupied Westlake since Friday evening, October 18, and set up a countdown clock for the strike. News of the agreement froze the clock at two hours to strike time.
Union leaders credited unity among their members and massive support from community organizations and grocery customers for the apparent victory. Schmitz said his union’s success showed that workers could take on even the largest corporations and win.
The giant grocery chains had originally proposed huge cuts in wages and benefits for their employees, including rolling starting pay back to minimum wage, and taking away time-and-a-half holiday pay.
Health insurance would also have been stripped from workers who logged less than 30 hours per week, and paid sick days would have been dropped.
While workers are cautiously waiting to see the details of the tentative agreement, it seems from the reaction of union negotiators that the worst employer proposals have been dropped.