By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Grocery chains presented workers with their “last, best and final offers” regarding contract negotiations that could lead to a strike.
Safeway and King Soopers presented the workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, with the final offers very late Monday night. A union spokeswoman said workers are in the process of going through the offers to see what their next move is.
A vote had not been scheduled as of last night.
Contract extensions for about 15,000 Safeway and King Soopers employees expired in September — the workers are working without a contract. Laura Chapin, spokeswoman for Local 7, said the fact that the workers are operating without a contract does not make the negotiations more urgent because they still have certain protections.
Safeway workers have already voted to authorize a strike if the company does not offer a contract proposal that includes “livable wages and a secure retirement.” In response, the two chains have agreed to lock out employees if workers from one store go on strike. In other words, if Safeway workers decide to put up the picket lines, King Soopers would lock out its employees that are part of the union.
If the union votes down the final offers, a strike is imminent, said sources close to the negotiations.
The two chains have said that they have an entire fleet of temporary replacement workers ready to fill in if a strike becomes reality.
Negotiations have been ongoing since April, with little progress made in the last two months. Several offers have been rejected in that time.
Grocery workers are seeking preventative health care coverage to be added to their policies, and for their pension plan to be fully funded. The grocery corporations have proposed cutting pension funding, but have reached a tentative agreement to include preventative health care coverage.
Workers are also looking for a “modest” wage increase that equals about 75 cents per hour.
The King Soopers offer includes a wage increase of 30 cents per hour for top employees, with subsequent 25-cent per hour per year increases for the remainder of the 52-month contract. That includes about 65 percent of workers. The offer also increases health care benefits to include coverage for part-time workers’ families after one year of employment.
“We encourage our associates to let their voices be heard and vote to ratify this contract by returning their ballots,” Russ Dispense, president of King Soopers, said in a statement. “King Soopers has offered bonuses, raises, increased health care benefits and nearly $40 million to help stabilize the pension fund in an economy where other companies are withholding raises, slashing health care benefits and freezing pensions.”
The Safeway offer includes a “very attractive” bonus for all employees who ratify the contract. Safeway contract negotiations have mirrored those with King Soopers. The offer also includes a 52-month contract term, wage increases, shortened wait time for health benefits for family members and pension improvements, according to the chain.
“This LBFO is Safeway’s best effort to reach new contracts with Local 7 and we haven’t held anything back,” said Kris Staaf, Safeway spokeswoman.
Chapin said the union must first examine the offers before commenting on them.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time and want to thoroughly understand these proposals,” she said.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters