The waiting game

Grocery workers still in holding pattern

Just about every day, at least one person asks Craig's Safeway employee Diana Meyer about contract negotiations between the employees' union and the store.

"We feel like we're up in the air and we don't know what's happening," said Meyer who manages the Craig Safeway deli. "It's hard to tell people what's going on when we don't know."

About 12,000 Western Slope grocery workers in the region's 16 Albertson's, Safeway and City Market stores are covered by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. Craig's City Market is nonunion, but negotiations have the potential to affect Craig's 45 Safeway workers.

Western Slope workers are negotiating separately from about 17,500 Front Range grocery workers. Workers here received a first proposal from grocers Nov. 10 that offered starting employees lower hourly wages than their Front Range counterparts. Other key points included health care premiums -- a cost employees currently do not bear -- that would increase annually, starting with increases of $5 to $15 a week.

Joe Hansen, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, stalled votes for the Front Range workers last week. That averted the possibility for a strike during this weekend.

Local 7 representative Virginia Watson said Western Slope negotiations should resume soon so a "proposal can be reached that we can possibly vote on."

But Watson said for that to happen, international union officials are requiring that grocers keep employees' current health-care benefits intact.

"As long as health care is in jeopardy, there will be no voting," she said. "There has been other (contracts) that health care hasn't been affected, and we're agreeable to that."

Safeway and City Market spokesman Pete Webb said that talks for Front Range workers could resume as early as Monday or Tuesday.

Western Slope negotiations tend closely on the heels of Front Range talks.

But Craig Safeway union employees still are wondering what to expect.

"I'm just going to hang in there," Meyer said. "We like our jobs. It seems like it's between Safeway and the union, and we're stuck in the middle."

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