December 15, 2009
Most unionized King Soopers workers have accepted a contract offer, while most Safeway employees have a rejected a similar deal and hope to resume talks with the grocery chain.
The results of mail balloting that ended Monday by United Food and Commercial Workers International Local 7 have introduced some clarity, although not necessarily finality, into contract negotiations that have dragged on for eight months between Colorado’s two largest grocery chains and its unionized workers.
By accepting the deal, King Soopers workers have ruled out a strike, though Local 7 said Tuesday there were exceptions to the vote. The union did not identify what those exceptions were.
However, Safeway workers are in limbo. All bargaining units rejected the contract offer, but some voted to authorize a strike while others did not. The union didn’t specify how each unit voted.
As a result, Local 7 has offered to resume talks with Safeway in hopes of reaching an agreement, said Laura Chapin, a union spokeswoman in Wheat Ridge.
“The workers have stayed united and made every decision by a majority vote to improve the contract offer,” said Local 7 attorney Crisanta Duran.
Safeway officials said they had received conflicting reports about the vote.
Kris Staaf, a company spokeswoman in Denver, said Safeway has “heard only informal reports that some units ratified the offer, some rejected it but failed to authorize a strike and we’ve heard reports that some may have rejected the offer by the two-thirds necessary for employee strike authorization. We await a formal accounting and official notice of the voting results.”
Diane Mulligan, a King Soopers spokeswoman in Denver, said the company had received no formal notification from the union about the ratification. She declined further comment.
The 52-month contract offer from both chains included annual raises totaling $1.30 an hour for the highest-paid workers; signing bonuses of $150 to $1,000 in the form of gift cards paid upon ratification; $40 million in additional payments to an underfunded pension plan; reduced waiting periods to receive medical benefits; and new preventive health care benefits. Workers from both chains, as well as Albertsons, have been working without contracts for months.
Local 7 members began voting on the offer Nov. 26. Union members previously rejected several contract offers from all three chains and voted at least three times to authorize a strike against Safeway, although they remained on the job.
The union represents more than 1,700 members in the Colorado Springs area and more than 17,000 statewide.
Contact the writer at 636-0234