Local grocery workers could strike

City Market executive warns of lockout in event of Safeway strike

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— A union official said Friday that a potential strike of Safeway workers, and a related possible lockout of City Market employees, would affect the companies' stores in Steamboat Springs and Craig.

Western Slope contracts previously have been negotiated separately from - and followed the lead of - those of Front Range grocery workers. In this case, however, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local No. 7 spokeswoman Laura Chapin said negotiations have been combined and a strike, if initiated, would include unionized workers in Northwest Colorado.

Chapin said Western Slope workers make a dollar less an hour than their Front Range counterparts, an issue being contested in the contract negotiations.

Safeway workers voted May 8 to approve a strike, which was put on hold while negotiations continued. When the latest round of talks broke down Tuesday, however, the union asked for approval from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., to allow a strike to begin.

"Workers are prepared to go on strike because the company has been giving them the same bad offer since May," said Chapin, who said workers' pension plans were the biggest sticking point in negotiations.

Chapin characterized the approval from union headquarters as a formality that is expected within days, but she said a strike is not necessarily imminent because Safeway could reopen negotiations and make concessions to prevent it. Safeway spokeswoman Kris Staaf did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment Friday.

Workers at King Soopers and City Market stores, both of which are owned by Kroger Co., have not approved a strike but also have rejected contract offers from the company. In a letter to employees Thursday, Dave Savage, vice president of retail operations for King Soopers, wrote that the company would lock out its unionized employees if Safeway workers strike.

"If there is a strike against Safeway, King Soopers may be forced to lock out our associates, and the union knows this," Savage wrote. "It is not something we want to do, but something we will need to do to protect our business."

Savage's statement applies to City Market and King Soopers stores.

Savage said the union is behaving recklessly and not negotiating in good faith. He encouraged unionized employees to demand an up or down vote on an agreement. Chapin said King Soopers could negotiate with its workers separately and would not be forced into locking them out but has decided instead to negotiate mutually with Safeway.

"Lockouts are absolutely god awful because it's really confrontational," she said. "People who want to work are physically prevented from it."

In addition to wages and pensions, health care costs also are at issue between the union and the companies. United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local No. 7 represents 17,000 workers in Colorado.

Should a strike and lockout occur, Chapin said it would be the first such event since 1996, when there was a strike and lockout for 42 days at Safeway and King Soopers stores.

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