Strike Threat Looms Over PNW Safeway, Fred Meyer as Contracts Set to Expire

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Safeway and Fred Meyer shoppers might want to get their groceries ahead of Sunday.

That's when workers could take action if an agreement isn't reached soon between Teamsters representing drivers and distribution workers and the grocers.

More than 1,000 grocery warehouse workers and drivers at Safeway and Fred Meyer are on the brink of taking strike authorization votes this weekend if progress isn't made in contract talks.

Representatives for Teamsters Locals 117 and 174 announced their intentions for a possible strike in separate announcements issued Wednesday and Thursday.

If no agreement is reached with Safeway, a vote will take place Saturday and a work stoppage could go in place as soon as 12:01 a.m. Sunday, according to a statement Thursday from Local 174.

Negotiations also have been ongoing for represented Fred Meyer workers.

Teamster contracts with Fred Meyer and Safeway are both set to expire over the weekend.

Local 174 represents approximately 150-175 Safeway drivers who deliver groceries from Safeway's Auburn distribution center to Safeway/Albertsons stores, all warehouse workers in the Auburn, Bellevue and Kent Distribution Centers, dispatchers, and Recycling Center workers.

A statement issued Thursday from Local 174 noted: "A strike by the entire group would make it all but impossible for Safeway to load and deliver groceries to stock shelves at Safeway/Albertsons and Haggen stores throughout Western Washington. Frozen goods distribution out of Bellevue including ice cream, soda, and dairy would be impacted statewide."

The union added: "In the event a strike is called, Safeway clerks represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Teamsters Local 38 have already pledged to inform their members of their rights under their Collective Bargaining Agreements to honor picket lines."

"We all remember the bare store shelves we experienced last March, and that was with all of our members working as hard as they could," Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks said in a statement issued Thursday. "Now we ask Safeway management to imagine how those shelves will look when the Teamsters are on strike. It's time for Safeway to get serious about addressing our concerns so that we can reach an agreement and avoid that nightmare."

Local 174, in its release, contends that contract negotiations "ran aground" when Safeway "refused to acknowledge the incredible sacrifices made by their workforce, who put themselves at risk and worked endless hours keeping our communities fed," amid the chain's own profits.

Sara Osborne, media representative for Safeway, told The News Tribune via email: "While we don't comment on ongoing negotiations, as with all our collective bargained agreements, we are committed to reaching a fair agreement that properly rewards our outstanding employees."

According to a statement from Local 117: "Voting by Teamsters at Fred Meyer will occur throughout the day on Saturday at the company's distribution center. Unless an acceptable deal is reached with Safeway on the final scheduled date of bargaining on July 15, workers there will vote to authorize a strike at a meeting on Saturday and three meetings on Sunday at the Teamsters Union Hall in Tukwila."

Local 117 made headlines last year seeking action from Fred Meyer and state Labor & Industries after a series of COVID-19 outbreaks made their way through the distribution center in Puyallup.

"Teamsters union representatives met with Fred Meyer numerous times throughout the pandemic to demand the company take more aggressive steps to address COVID-19 outbreaks, but the company was slow to respond," the union said in a statement this week.

"Safeway was more responsive to the Union's health and safety concerns, but the company's proposals at the bargaining table do not reflect the sacrifices their workers have made throughout the pandemic," it added.

John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, told The News Tribune in an emailed statement that: "Thursday is the last scheduled day of Safeway negotiations. We will not be negotiating with Fred Meyer before this weekend's strike authorization votes."

Local 117 represents roughly 500 warehouse workers at Fred Meyer servicing 180 stores in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho, and 470 warehouse workers at Safeway servicing 202 stores in Washington and Alaska.

Scearcy said the safety battles over COVID haven't ended, in his emailed statement to The News Tribune:

"As for Fred Meyer, with the multiple COVID outbreaks at the company's Puyallup distribution center, the union is especially concerned about improving safety conditions for our members," he said via email.

He added that the company "so far has been unwilling to make economic proposals that reflect the sacrifices these workers have made throughout the pandemic."

Fred Meyer, in a statement sent to The News Tribune in response to questions, said: "The distribution center that services Fred Meyer and QFC is in active labor negotiations. The companies' goal is a fair and balanced contract that honors associates and keeps the company competitive. We don't currently anticipate any disruption in service to our stores."

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