Safeway workers, grocery store plan to negotiate Wednesday

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Employees of Craig's Safeway are heading into contract negotiations Wednesday, and union workers are expected to vote the next day on whether to strike. The local store, which has 45 employees, is scheduled to lead the talks Wednesday with seven other Western Slope grocery stores.

"We encourage everyone (to vote) so they get their voices heard," said Josh Wright, a steward for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 at Craig's Safeway.

The union and the three grocery chains -- Albertson's, King Soopers and Safeway -- have stalled in settling contracts that expired Wednesday. Both parties have been in negotiations since August, but they failed to settle on proposals for health-care coverage and a two-tiered wage system that would pay new hires less than current workers.

The three grocery store companies are negotiating separately with the union. Employees at Craig's City Market, which is a division of King Soopers, are not represented by the union.

Kris Staaf, spokeswoman for Safeway and City Market, refused to comment about what will happen next for Safeway employees now that contracts have expired. According to the union's Web site, it could take at least a week to vote on the final contract offer. Though that could mean companies could lock workers out, union officials said there is no indication that companies are prepared to do it.

Members of the union negotiating committee have recommended that workers approve a strike. If a majority of the union's 17,500 workers agree, a walkout could begin as soon as the last vote is tallied Nov. 11.

Kirk Mahaffie, manager of Craig's City Market, said he wasn't sure how his employees would react if Craig's Safeway workers went on strike; yet it would be an increase in business for the town's only other major grocery store.

"It's been pretty quiet," he said. "I know if it does happen we'll be busy."

Workers currently don't pay for their health insurance premium as part of their compensation. A proposal on the table would require workers to pay part of their premiums that would rise in cost annually.

Also on the table is a proposal that new employees would be paid on a lower wage scale and wouldn't receive the same wage bonuses as current employees.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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