Grocery workers at Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers have voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize their union to strike against the Kroger Co. subsidiaries, as grocers enter into one of the busiest seasons of the year.
Representing over 29,000 essential workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 (UFCW 555) “have voted overwhelmingly to authorize their Union Leadership to call for an unfair labor practice strike against Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers (QFC),” according to a statement on Dec. 11.
A strike authorization vote means that leadership has the power to call a strike if negotiations don’t bear fruit; it doesn’t mean a strike will definitely be called.
Miles Eshaia, a spokesperson for the union, accused the companies of not providing the right hourly wages to workers in certain departments that they’re supposed to be receiving as part of their contracts.
“Our position is that [the companies] are failing to pay certain departments the correct amount,” Eshaia told The Oregonian on Dec. 12. “They’re not giving us the information to prove it, which they are required to do.”
UFCW 555 President Dan Clay mentioned the withholding of related information as one of the reasons for calling the strike.
“Fred Meyer and QFC have repeatedly violated their legal duties to negotiate in good faith with Local 555, with the most blatant example being Fred Meyer’s refusal to provide information necessary for the Union to negotiate a new agreement and to process grievances,” Clay said. “The way these employers have violated the National Labor Relations Act has left grocery workers no choice but to take action.”
In response, Fred Meyer issued a statement that said that “strike authorization does not mean a strike,” and urged employees to report to work as usual. It said that the union members had not “called for a work stoppage” and hoped the issue gets resolved.
The company added that no one, including the store, customers, union, or employees, wins with a strike. A compensation package, which is right for the business as well as the workers, is what the company is aiming for.
The parties will continue talks through Dec. 16; if an agreement on key issues isn’t reached by Dec. 17, workers will proceed with the strike.
Compared to a strike demanding better benefits, an unfair labor practices strike is expected to be resolved much more quickly. Workers who go on such strikes can’t be permanently replaced, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
Negotiations have been ongoing between the companies and the union since July for better contracts. UFCW 555 maintains that the wages don’t reflect the increase in the cost of living for the employees.
“The pandemic has highlighted both the importance of grocery workers to our communities as well as the struggles they endure to make ends meet, all while producing record profits for Fred Meyer and QFC,” said UFCW 555 Secretary-Treasurer Sandy Humphrey.
“Essential employees deserve the same care and respect now that they have shown our neighbors over the last two years. These employers refuse to acknowledge that their worker’s wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, leaving them and their families at risk while providing food for our community.”