Strike threatened at Puget-area grocery stores

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SEATTLE — Union leaders for about 21,000 workers at four major grocery store chains in the Puget Sound area are threatening a strike at 7 p.m. Monday unless they reach an agreement on a labor contract with employers.

A strike by the United Food and Commercial Workers could affect QFC, Safeway, Albertsons and Fred Meyer stores in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties.

"Our hope is that the employers will come to their senses and avoid a strike," union spokesman Tom Geiger said in a statement Sunday afternoon. He did not immediately return a call Monday morning.

Unresolved issues include wages, holiday pay and cuts to health care benefits. The two sides have been in talks for more than six months, he has said.

The grocery stores are negotiating through the Allied Employers group. It says it wants a solid pay and benefits package for workers that would allow the companies to be competitive.

Allied Employers Vice President Scott Powers said in a statement Friday that "these companies remain focused and committed to reach an agreement that is good for our associates, providing them a solid compensation package of pay and benefits; and good for the companies too, so they can be competitive and continue to provide good, stable jobs."

Powers did not immediately return a call Monday morning.

"I'm stressed out about it," Cathy Logston, who has worked at Safeway for 14 years, told KOMO News. "I don't want to go on strike, but I want my benefits."

Jim Proctor-Mills, who was shopping at QFC Monday morning, said he hadn't heard about the potential strike but probably wouldn't cross a picket line. "I would support people who are fighting for their rights," he said.

Pat Shepherd said she wouldn't be affected by a strike because she does most of her shopping at Costco. But she worried about shoppers who depend on store pharmacies or who aren't able to get to alternative stores. "I'm hoping they don't strike," she said.

"It won't affect me," said Mike Minor, as he left a QFC in Seattle Monday morning, adding that he would continue to shop at the stores even if workers go on strike. "Management will have people on site. The grocery store isn't going to be shut down."

Meanwhile, grocery workers held a rally Sunday night in downtown Seattle, where a clock has been counting down the number of hours until a possible strike. The union has been making picket schedules and getting thousands of picket signs ready in case of a strike.