Western Slope grocery workers on hold

Amy Hamilton

Western Slope grocery workers are being offered less than what was offered to Front Range workers, according to contract negotiations Wednesday that may affect union workers in the region’s 16 Safeway, Albertson’s and City Market stores.

Craig’s Safeway workers are covered under the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, but City Market in Craig is nonunion. Safeway has 45 workers.

Safeway workers in Grand Junction rejected Wednesday’s proposal, which is the first draft for the Western Slope’s 1,200 union workers.

According to Wednesday’s talks, major points include starting wages for new employees that would be $2 to $3 less an hour, and smaller raises that would require more hours of work to attain.

Craig Safeway’s Local 7 steward, Josh Wright, said Western Slope workers were offered less because grocers point to a lower cost of living and more competitive pressure with other grocery chains in the region.

“It’s what we expected they’d do,” Wright said.

A Local 7 union official, who spoke with Safeway employees during meetings Thursday, said local workers would vote on a contract and whether to strike once a “last, best and final” offer was on the table.

He was unclear about when that would be.

“The best advice when you vote the contract and vote the strike is to vote how it will affect your future and family,” said the union representative, who did not want to be identified.

Some workers shook their heads in disbelief Thursday night after reading the first proposal.

“The big question is, do I want to go on strike for something that might happen to somebody in (Grand) Junction?” asked employee Brian Ghiradelli.

Ghiradelli also didn’t agree with the grocer’s proposal that offers health-care premiums that would increase annually, starting with an increase of $5 to $15 a week. The size of the premium increase was unspecified. Safeway workers don’t pay for health insurance.

Other employees wondered how they could weather a strike during the holiday season.

“This is very stressful,” said a woman who works in Safeway’s delicatessen. “It’s our prime time of year. It’s Christmas time, and we’ve got families, and they’re telling us they don’t know (when talks will be settled.)”

The union official said it was unlikely that a lockout could occur at Craig’s Safeway. Grocers have to pay unemployment if workers are locked out but not on strike and, with only one other major grocery store in town, the shift in business would be hard for Safeway to recoup.

Talks are stalled on the Front Range as workers wait to hear from union leaders whether they could vote to strike and vote on their own contract offer.

Offers there have been passed to the international president of the National United Food and Commercial Workers for review.

Union officials have said that there are worries that some bargaining units may accept the proposals, but the terms of the proposals would be so damaging that they may destroy other bargaining units.

Grocers have said that their proposals are designed to compete with low-cost competitors such as Wal-Mart.

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