Strike at QFC, Safeway? Things could get interesting for Hill accustomed to walking for groceries

Seattle w/ groceries.

Originally uploaded by Holly Fabs

Starting next week — and only days before the celebration of grocery gluttony that is Team USA Thanksgiving — Capitol Hill and the other dense city neighborhoods of Seattle accustomed to being able to walk to their nearest QFC or Safeway could be in for an interesting urban dilemma. What do you do when the employees at the big grocery chain down the street go on strike? Nothing is final, but union members from UFCW 21, UFCW 81, and Teamsters 38 have authorized a strike as contract talks with the regions largest chains including Safeway and Kroger’s QFC continue. It would be the Seattle area’s first grocery workers strike since 1989.

From the UFCW21 Web site:

Grocery Store Workers Vote Results: 94% Reject Employers’ Proposal and Authorize a Strike

After 9 Months of Negotiations, Big Chains Still Proposing Cuts to Pay & Benefits

Puget Sound, WA – Grocery store workers at the big chain stores in central Puget Sound gathered for vote meetings throughout Snohomish, King and Kitsap Counties over the past several days to consider a vote to reject the employers’ proposal and take a strike authorization vote. The last of these meetings took place on Wednesday evening in Bellevue. After the meeting all the ballots were counted.

The vote result: 94% Vote to Reject Employers’ Proposal and Authorize a Strike

Difficult negotiations between workers and these big chains have been dragging on since they began nine months ago in mid-March. The out-of-state-based corporations include California-based Safeway, Albertsons (owned by Minnesota-based Supervalu), and QFC and Fred Meyer (both owned by Cincinnati-based food giant Kroger).

The contract ends on November 15th, according to the union site. A strike could follow days later.

Having experienced life in a striking family in the 1980s, I can state the obvious and say it’s a stressful time for workers right now and especially workers’ families. There’s not a lot of ways to explain to a kid why you’re not going to work and why you can’t buy certain things for awhile.

The dilemma for the labor-sensitive on the Hill likely won’t be whether to cross picket lines to stand in the self-checkout U-Scan lines but a much more base matter of survival. How to acquire food without eating out every night when you’ve based your day to day existence on being able to walk to the nearest grocery store?

Nobody is going to starve. There’s a large selection of non (grocery, at least)-union competitors in the area including Trader Joe’s, Madison Market and, yup, even Grocery Outlet down on MLK. There’s also Whole Foods down Denny. If you don’t have experience getting your groceries home via bus, you might want to start lifting weights now. Others will turn to the Internet as Amazon Fresh is already busy every morning on Capitol Hill dropping off yellow, green and blue bins. So, again, no starvation. Any ’89 veterans left to tell the tales?

In all, it’s a #firstworldproblems situation. But it will be interesting to watch play out if it happens. For the workers — and their families — it’s much more serious.

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45 thoughts on “Strike at QFC, Safeway? Things could get interesting for Hill accustomed to walking for groceries

  1. I was in a conversation with a QFC worker yesterday about the strike. They aren’t happy about it. This is more a function of the union then the workers. I don’t think the strike will actually happen and if it does, I don’t think it will last long.

  2. Rob….

    We are NOT happy about the possibility of not having a paycheck as we head into the holidays–or anytime for that matter. The contract we are being offered has SERIOUS flaws. As one of my co-workers said so well: 94% voted to turn this down. That is HUGE percentage. If that many of us are voting to decline the contract *especially* at this time of year, doesn’t it really go to show that our employers are not being fair? I am really tired of all the hateful comments people are making–I am a single mom, I work full time, and have done so for 20+ years. I DO NOT want to go on strike, but the employers are leaving us little choice.

  3. i think all too often the only angle the local media wants to take regarding strikes is how much of a horrible inconvenience it will be for customers. how dare they put thanksgiving on the line so they can get more perks out of the man? i’d like to know more about why 94% voted down the contract when clearly there are a lot of risks involved with striking, but i have a feeling i’ll learn more about that from reading this blog.

  4. Sorry folks, but the rest of us are taking pay cuts and tightening our belts too. That’s the fallout from the economy bust our Republican friends created for us. EVEN FOLKS WITH FAMILIES!

    I personally have taken a 15% pay cut, my copays have increased and my deductible is now $500 a year for my health insurance. Plus, my paid time off has gone down to a total of three weeks a year. I haven’t made this amount of money a year since 2006.

    sorry you’re a single Freddie’s employee with kids, but this is the reality of the economy.

    I have had similar conversations with QFC folks who confirm it’s a function of the union and a few vocal employees who either have offspring or a sense of entitlement. Same union bullying is goign on with the Teamsters and the Carpenters unions.

    I think it’s time to load up the SUV with a couple carless people and make a road trip to Winco to buy groceries. The other option is to cross the picket line. I’m in favor of that.

  5. I agree with the post above. What are really the terms of this contract? All we seem to be getting from the “media” is sensationalism.

  6. We are talking about labor rights and workers conditions and the Capitol Hill blog posts about the inconvenience this will have in getting groceries. I am disappointed in this post. The grocery workers carry out a very necessary and useful part in our community and we should support them being treated with respect at work. These are our neighbors and friends.

    I am disturbed by a few of the comments on here. People obviously don’t understand labor rights and how those were created. Just because businesses are laying people off and the economy is not performing well DOES not mean employers have a right to take advantage of their employees. Employees also do not have to just take it. That is why unions were created. The ideology that the workers are “undeserving” or that they are full of entitlement is going to put us back into the dark ages. I support the unions and I hope the workers get a better contract off of this potential strike. Power to the worker, not the corporation. Remember, it is the workers who really make the money for the corporation, not the other way around.

  7. strike , trust me safeway will continue to try to halt wages and reduce health benefits. corporate greed, how do i know? i was part of this in another life..

  8. The post makes it pretty clear that the more important story here is the union and the contract. We look at things through the prism of life on Capitol Hill. Nobody is saying any inconvenience or ‘interesting’-ness isn’t worth it for either side in this.

  9. Yeah, I was on the Hill in 1989. During the last strike I recall the parking lots as busy as ever. There were fewer (large) grocery stores 21 years ago. The Safeways on Broadway and 15th, and the QFC next door to the current one on Broadway, the 15th mini-QFC, and an independent market on 12th and Pine were the options.) Hill people shopped where they had to shop. The strike meant very little here. In other areas of Seattle where there were more chains things were a little different. Me? I walk to QFC and Safeway. I will continue to do so.

    QFC has self-service checkouts so they can actually get buy with one or two checkers for the whole self-serve area. Safeway does not have self-serve (at least the 15th store doesn’t). I predict QFC will get the bulk of the traffic for that reason.

  10. The article does tell the importance of the union contract, but the headline is largely misleading. The headline implies the more important story is that we are going to be inconvenienced during the strike.

  11. Speaking as an ex-grocery employee and growing up in a family of grocery workers I’m very pro-union I don’t shop at places that aren’t union. Having been through strikes before no one ever wants to strike but its a necessary evil, its not the Union being unfair its the Union working for the employees. When contracts get passed down with changes to benefits, condition or what have you the Union will step in if they feel it unfair or unjustified. Kroger has been trying to go non-union for years now so they don’t have to pay union dues or follow the rules of being a fair overlord. When I worked for QFC I was apart of an unfair dispute and I had a Union rep step in and won, thats what they are there for. Its not Union bullying, they really do want whats best for the employee. Every Union worker pays Union dues out of every pay check to pay for the service, if you don’t like it that you shouldn’t work for a Union. I can say that I was proud to pay those dues and eventually I had to use them and it was worth it.

  12. Worked at the Safeway @ 15th & John between 1971 – 1976 while attending school. Pay was about $6.00/hr, time + 1/2 for Sundays & holidays, and COMPLETE medical/dental/vision coverage. Worked nights, so received a .35 per hour premium (6.35 or thereabouts.) No pension. Went on strike in 1974 (or ’75) mainly over the pension. Many of my coworkers considered the job a career. How things have changed!!! Would somebody please be kind enough to provide the details of the proposed contract? FWIW, I support the union members in their efforts, and will not be crossing the picket lines if they are posted. Off to PCC or Whole Foods (Whole Wallet.) For those of you who support the workers in retail, you might want to consider avoiding Wal-Mart. IMHO, they’re the ones who started this ball rolling – downhill.

  13. Thanks, Greg. UFCW 21 lists union-affiliated workforces here:

    The Grocery & Meat list:
    * Albertsons
    * Cost Cutters / The Markets
    * Fred Meyer
    * Haggen / Top Food & Drug
    * KC Foods Thriftway
    * Lakemont Thriftway
    * Madison Market
    * Metropolitan Markets
    * PCC (Puget Consumers Co-op) Natural Markets
    * QFC
    * Red Apple
    * Roger’s Market Place
    * Rose & Associates
    * Saar’s Market Place
    * Safeway
    * Sand Point Pharmacy
    * Tukwila Trading Company
    * Sunset Markets
    * Swain’s General Store
    * Town & Country / Central Market
    * Vashon Thriftway
    * West Seattle Thriftway (Cap Foods)

  14. “The headline implies the more important story is that we are going to be inconvenienced during the strike.”

    Semantics. CHS informed us that this is going on, which is the purpose of CHS, no matter what is more important to you: being inconvenienced as a shopper or labor rights.

  15. I am a union construction worker that lives with in walking distance of QFC on the hill. I will whole heartedly support the workers should they go on strike and not cross the picket line. The 100 dollars a week, I tend to spend on food will be going to Trader Joe’s instead.
    Times are tough for everyone. We need to pull together and support workers that are fighting for fair pay and benefits.

  16. There is power in the people. Any rights we have today are a direct result of the difficult decisions and actions our fellow workers have made over the years- the people have fought for safety and equality in the workplace, for the 8 hour workday and for the weekend. I am only recently a union member (OPEIU local 8) myself and am proud of it. I absolutely will not cross the picket lines should it come to a strike. When we lay down and say ‘times are tough, take what you can get’ we forget our own power. Don’t be Mr. Block!

    ‘No you can’t scare me, I’m sticking with the Union…’

  17. In relevance to the post topic, if you are worried about how you are going to haul your groceries home while car-less in Cap Hill and supporting the strike by not going to your super close QFC/Safeway, go to Walgreens and buy yourself one of those little “old lady” style wheeled carts. Trust me, it’s one of the best $20 I’ve spent being car-less but still needing food.

    As an ex-two time employee of Safeway, I avoid shopping there as much as possible. Yay Farmer’s Markets!

  18. I work at QFC.

    The contract that is being proposed is too insulting for me to even describe here. But I will give you the summary: no benefits for 2 years. nothing. if you make it to two years, you get some benefits. minimal health insurance, but probably no vacation/sick pay/holiday pay/sunday pay. It’s going to take many years to get to journeyman status (where you’re guaranteed raises). and, they are going to be axing journeymen left and right to prepare for that. Courtesy clerks? You might know them as “baggers”, but they do a lot more than that. They get nothing, ever.

    Please don’t say it’s a sense of “entitlement” that makes us want coverage. This is the only way I can get health insurance, as I have a “pre-existing condition” and the ban on denying coverage doesn’t start for a few more years. You have no idea about our personal lives. Many of us have families, many of us are putting ourselves through school while still working full time.

    I’ll tell you, I can’t afford a strike. But I also can’t afford this disgusting contract. The union knew there would be cuts, which is why they didn’t go into negotiations asking for anything more. But this is absolutely insulting for those of us who show up to work with a smile on our face for year after year, barely making enough to get by.

    Picket line breakers, karma will get you in the end.

  19. I would benefit from knowing if the Co-Ops and smaller local chains and independents are included in these negotiations and possible work stoppage? I would prefer not shopping at non-unionized Grocers, i.e. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods especially in an effort to support worker’s rights. The lighting is nice in Whole Foods however their business practices are driven by profits and decided upon with shareholder’s interest’s placed ahead of the communities’ or workers’.
    I encourage those who might seek out a convenient and non-confrontational approach to solving their grocery needs during a work stoppage to pause long enough to consider if that convenience is not out of alignment with one or more of their other values.

  20. Madison Market and PCC have different contracts than QFC and Safeway. They are part of the same union but will not be going on strike.

  21. I work for Safeway, but not in this region or for this union. Safeway are pretty evil; I’m convinced upper management have twirly villainous mustachios, and eat baby kittens. Humor aside, they /are/ psychopaths.

    Safeway are contemptuous of their employees. If you want a vision of Safeway, imagine a boot stamping on a human face. I don’t like working in their First-world sweatshop. I would leave, but there aren’t many choices these days.

    Safeway is trying to capitalize on the sour labor market, helping reduce the standard of living. Some people don’t seem to understand that a loss for union workers is a loss for working people everywhere. Unionized workers help set a benchmark for wages, benefits, and working conditions across entire industries.

    Good luck people at UFCW 21.

  22. I hope QFC drops prices to bring more people into the store during this strike. Help some of us out there without the benefit of a job. Maybe, if we are lucky, they’ll stop using union labor and they can pass some of those savings to me.

  23. “poor man”, you are naiive. QFC is run by greedy bastards, if anything they will raise prices. What’s the problem with union labor? since you obviously don’t belong to one, I don’t expect you to understand. they are the reason these crappy jobs are even worth working.

  24. Pathetic excuse to take your money is what I call a grocers union. I am all for a union in the trade industries, there are decisions that are made in non board rooms that are one dimensional and you need that support. In a grocery store, pathetic. These are retail businesses that have a board of directors, and have to fall in to federal laws. If these companies were so “unfair” to workers, than why do they still exist? I will tell you, the fair labor act prevents the companies from being unfair. They are not breaking any of the laws. I know a few people in the retail business, some union and some not. When they brought over their benefit packages, they were almost identical. The union member claimed the medical was better, because there was less monthly out of pocket expense, but when he added his union dues to the mix, he was actually paying more than the non union employee. Grocery unions are a joke, and they are in the business of making money off of the lemmings that want to follow them over the cliff. Trades; I agree with, non-trades, waste of money and time.

  25. You cannot control what people do or say, you can only control how you react to it. We are solely responsible for our lives and what happens within it. =] Those unhappy about their lives and are concerned with mine, focus your negative thoughts elsewhere and see where that takes you. I am grateful for every single thing that has been given to me, happened, whatever, and I don’t have a problem with the Union, management, corporations, whatever it is that THEY want. Just don’t try to take away money or mess with my life or people I care about. Business can’t be THAT bad. And if it is, tell the truth and some might be more responsive to what it is you want. I try to live my life by the Golden Rule, so whatever happens will happen. Que sera sera. =]

  26. Were saying 94% voted for a strike but how many employees actually voted? Probably a majority of employees actually didn’t even show up to vote. Fred Meyer is a great place to work! During the worse recession since the great depression NO LAYOFFS, unless the union THE UNION strikes.

  27. I would like to point out that the outcome of this will in fact effect everyone. The grocery workers who have journeymen status have earned a pretty decent wage, however, if you take it away and replace it with an entry-level paying employee that money won’t get put back into the economy and it will seriously hurt the communities more. I do not believe that the economy has hit rock bottom yet, so you’d better brace yourself.

  28. I agree! For Journeymen who have years in the company they want to replace our health care with something much more expensive, take away our pensions AND take away Sunday pay to $1.00 an hour (same with holiday pay). This along will TAKE AWAY from my paycheck every week! Plus I will be paying more for health care issues. Please do not judge…we have to put our foot down somewhere. Also, many of us cannot afford a strike, but we cannot afford NOT to strike.

  29. So those of you who are thinking about crossing the picket line. And for those of you who think strike is a bad idea.
    Since the recession hit it may seem that EVERY business has been effects negatively, well, not Safeway. How many of you started buying groceries instead of going out to dinner once you got paycuts? I bet a lot of you answered yes. I work in the produce section and everyday we make wages for the day by THOUSANDS, i’m not joking. They want us to make about 10,000 per day in the produce section alone and we usually make anywhere from 13000 to 16000 per day. And then everyday the managers try to cut everyones hours while complaining about the economy. I’ve never been the type to complain about “the greedy rich”. But the Bastards who run this company (CEO made 11 million last year) know exactly that they can take this recession and guilt trip their employees by telling them that there are plenty of jobless people out there who would love are jobs. Although this is true, that doesn’t make right for a multimillion dollar company to treat there workers unfairly. Please think about that and support the workers if this strike happens.

  30. For those of you who are wondering which stores you can shop at. Just simply stay away from any grocery store with people standing outside of it striking:)

  31. I love it. More of the same crap about unions – like talking about union “BOSSES.” Look, the union IS THE MEMBERS. That was not a decision cooked up by mob bosses with pinky-rings in pinstriped suits. That decision was made by NINETY-FOUR PERCENT OF THE LOCAL UNION’S MEMBERS. Jesus I’m so sick of everybody spouting off this anti-union BS all the time. Nobody even knows how brainwashed they are.

  32. Hello!,Hello! Are there any Intelligent life forms out there? If there is at least 1(one), Try this information out for size. Our…Excuse Me… The special interest government that is in charge at this time,has Bailed out the PRIVATE BANKS..see: HOW TO SCREW AMERICANS OUT OF THEIR MONEY…THAT FAILED! The special interest owned government bailed out the PRIVATE AUTO COMPANIES ( Even ones like Builders of KARMA For $500,000,000 ie. A company that has not even made a production car….THEY CAN NOW!!! Enough about the obvious.ALL THAT SAFEWAY HAS TO DO IS LOBBY THE BUYABLE GOVERNMENT AND THEY WILL PROBABLY BAIL YOU OUT TOO!JUST GET MORE THAN ENOUGH AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR EMPLOYEES,WHILE THE HEAVIES ARE ENJOYING THEIR BONUSES ON FIJI.