Grand Junction grocery workers to vote on strike, Safeway ready to hire temporary workers

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Grocery store workers across Colorado are gearing up to vote on a possible strike, prompting one local grocery chain to take steps to make sure it would be ready for one.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, the union that represents grocery workers in Colorado and Wyoming, has been butting heads with Colorado grocery stores for months over new contracts for employees. The union says a final offer has been laid on the table, and it's time for them to make some important decisions.

Tuesday, unionized employees of Safeway and King Soopers / City Market in Denver will kick off a two-week long vote by workers across the state, that comes here to Grand Junction Monday, Sept. 28. While both sides say they hope they can work things out without a strike, the workers say the chances of one happening is increasing.

Melanie Gertson is a member of UFCW. She says after months of negotiations with grocery stores for new contracts, things appear to be at a stand still.

"When both sides reach an impass, somebody has to budge," says Gertson.

After members vote on the latest round of concessions from Safeway and King Soopers / City Market stores this week, that might just happen.

"Every member has a right to vote on that proposal, to accept it or in this case go on strike," says Gertson. "And to show that because we've reached this impass, the only way to move forward is to go on strike."

Safeway officials say they hope that is not the case.

"Our sincere desire is to bring these discussions and negotiations to a mutually acceptable conclusion without a labor dispute," says Kris Staaf, Director of Public Affairs for Safeway.

But just in case it does happen, they're taking steps to get ready. Since May, the company has posted yellow signs on its doors that read "Due to a possible labor dispute, Safeway is now accepting applications for temporary employees."

"We do this in order to insure that we can adequately staff our stores and fully serve our employees," says Staaf.

Company officials say the move is only a precautionary measure, and is not intended to show a lack of faith in the negotiations.

"Since we've been collecting applications, we've identified several thousand potential employees," says Staaf.

Union members say they can respect that.

"We are all very fortunate to have our jobs and we're not inconsiderate of the company's position," says Gertson. "We don't feel threatened by any temporary worker signs."

But they remain optimistic that those temporary employees won't need to be hired.

"The strike is still a way's out. The company could still give us another offer and we could still give them offers," says Gertson. "There's still a lot of room for improvement."

The union says says it's very pleased the grocery stores are on board to give employees preventative care benefits for the first time ever. Disputes, however, remain over pension cuts, hourly wages, and health care premiums.

Members around the state will vote through October 6.

UFCW says Albertson's employees are not part of this vote, because they have elected to wait for more negotiations.

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