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Surprising split vote by grocery workers: King Soopers employees accept offer, Safeway staffers reject it

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Update, 12:27 p.m.: United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 spokeswoman Laura Chapin shares comments about the grocery-workers vote below the original item:

This just in: King Soopers and City Market employees have voted to accept a contract offer from their company, while their peers at Safeway have turned thumbs down to a pact put forward by their firm.

Does that mean a strike at Safeway is imminent? A release put out by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 says reps hope for more negotiations despite the deal being termed last, best and final. Here's the union's take:

SAFEWAY WORKERS VOTE TO REJECT, KING SOOPERS/CITY MARKET WORKERS VOTE TO ACCEPT CORPORATION'S LAST, BEST, & FINAL OFFER

After more than six months of negotiations, the overwhelming majority of Safeway workers have rejected the Corporation's last, best, and final offer. King Soopers/City Market workers, with some exceptions, have voted to accept the offer. Statewide, Safeway workers voted to reject the contract, and some units voted to reauthorize a strike, but at this point the workers' hope is Safeway will return to the bargaining table.

"The workers have stayed united and made every decision by majority vote to improve the contract offer," said UFCW Local 7 attorney Crisanta Duran, who has participated in the negotiating sessions since April. "The workers are the union, we respect their decisions, and we hope Safeway will, too."

Workers have been asking for a fair deal that includes a secure retirement, affordable, accessible health care, and wages that allow them to support their families. The workers proposed a package of preventative health care measures that was included in the final proposal. Negotiations began in April, and the original contracts expired May 9.

According to 30-year Safeway employee Arlys Carlson, who has been a member of the bargaining team and attended dozens of negotiation meetings, "We've now rejected the offer four times, so Safeway should listen to their employees. Especially in light of the millions of dollars these Corporations are earning, workers deserve the pension they have earned and were promised, plus livable wages and affordable, accessible health care. We hope the Corporation will meet us halfway with a fair contract."

And according King Sooper's worker Julie Gonzales, "I think the Corporation's memo saying they'd lock out workers affected the vote. It's a shame that the Corporation couldn't be honest with people."

Update, 12:27 p.m.: UFCW 7 spokeswoman Laura Chapin believes the split grocery-workers vote puts the lie to a persistent assumption about union members.

"If anybody had any doubt that workers are in charge of this process, they just got the proof," she says. "The workers make up their own minds on these things."

According to Chapin, the contract offers made by King Soopers and Safeway are extremely similar -- so the disparity between the responses of employees is striking, if not startling. "Safeway workers have consistently rejected the offer," she notes. "And there were some King Soopers bargaining units that voted to reject it, too. But it's based on the overall vote."

As noted in the release above, the union hopes Safeway will re-open negotiations despite having put forward what the company termed its last, best and final offer. Chapin says such a move wouldn't be unprecedented: "In 1993, I believe that they went back and forth six or seven times with offers and counter-offers."

At this writing, neither Safeway nor King Soopers has responded to the vote, and Chapin declines to speculate about the possibilities -- including the prospect that a strike at Safeway could lead to King Soopers employees being locked out despite having accepted their contract.

"It's up to them," she says. "It's completely out of our hands, as it has been all along." In the meantime, she adds, "we're just following where the workers lead us."


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