Grocery strike deadline nears | SierraSun.com

Grocery strike deadline nears

Staff reports
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Lisa Walsh stocks oranges in the produce department in Safeway on Donner Pass Road in Truckee.
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Supermarket workers at Albertsons and Safeway stores in Truckee may start the new year on a picket line. Their labor union has set a midnight Sunday deadline on contract negotiations. Jack L. Loveall, president of Local 588 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Roseville, said Wednesday “the time for a decision is now” after five months of negotiations. Some 19,000 Local 588 members from the Oregon border to Modesto are affected by the current negotiations, which are independent of contract talks currently taking place in the Bay Area. Workers have been without a contract since July 18.The union said that after Sunday, members will vote, “if necessary, to authorize a strike in locations throughout Northern California to be announced at a later date.”The strike would affect both of Truckee’s major chain grocery stores, and could begin during the end-of-the-year onslaught of holiday and tourist shoppers. The supermarkets are optimistic that they will continue operations even if a strike hits, but replacement workers would likely create a much slower shopping experience for holiday customers.

“We would not shut down,” said Safeway Public Affairs Manager Teena Massingill. “Replacement workers would be hired.”Representatives of the supermarket chains have said they need employees to share rising health care costs to remain competitive with non-union stores like Wal-Mart and WinCo.”We need to keep the company strong in the face of increasing competition,” Massingill said.Loveall made it clear he felt management’s demands are unacceptable.”We are committed to maintaining the finest supermarket contract in the industry,” he said. “That means no employee-paid premiums for health care. That means no two-tier system of wages or benefits.”Union members currently earn from $8 to $22 an hour, depending on the job and seniority. They pay no premiums for health insurance and are subject to co-pays of $10 for office and emergency room visits.

The union said contract extensions are still in place with Raley’s and other independent markets. SPD Markets’ contract expires next year.Local supermarket workers face the possibility of a strike with a mix of emotions. Lisa Walsh, who was stocking oranges in Safeway’s produce department on Thursday, said she isn’t looking for higher wages, but believed the union must act if her earnings are going to drop.”To not have a job is a scary thought,” said Walsh. “But I believe in the cause and I’ll do what I have to do.”Although negotiations have been tough, Massingill said the union’s decision to threaten a strike was the wrong move.”I think this drawing a line in the sand is counter productive,” she said. A strike “hurts everyone,” she added.While a work stoppage would certainly hurt both striking employees and the supermarket chains, local non-chain grocers could capitalize on the increased business during an already busy time of year.

“I am guessing, from my experience with the last strike, that we would see a big jump in sales,” said Billy Griffin, owner of New Moon Natural Foods in Truckee and Tahoe City.Griffin said he noticed customers who usually split their shopping between his store and the supermarkets switch to doing all of their shopping at New Moon during an October 2000 strike by Safeway’s food distribution company.He said he will closely monitor the current labor negotiations to determine whether he should be prepared to boost his grocery stock and staff levels.”We’ll do our best to handle the overflow,” said Griffin, of the possible strike. “We will brace for it.”- The Sierra Sun’s David Bunker contributed to this article.