Lane County grocery, meat workers on the verge of checking out

EUGENE, OR -- Grocery workers and meat cutters here and in Springfield could be headed for a strike this summer if a new contract isn't forthcoming.

Some 1,200 grocery clerks, courtesy clerks and meat cutters at Fred Meyer, Albertson's, Safeway and several independent stores have been working under contracts that expired Feb. 14.

Last month all but Fred Meyer meat cutters rejected their employers' offers by a minimum 2-to-1 margin, said Rick Sawyer, director of collective bargaining at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. "It could be a long summer in Lane County," he said.

The grocers are negotiating individually with the union, unlike the Portland metropolitan area, where bosses negotiate collaboratively as Food Employers Inc.

A key issue in negotiations is "pay equity," Sawyer said. Employees in Lane County and southern Oregon have historically been paid less than grocery workers in Portland doing essentially the same job.

"The feeling of our Eugene and Springfield people is that it's time to start closing that gap," Sawyer said. The contract proposal rejected by all but Fred Meyer meat cutters was patterned after last year's Portland agreement, which gave annual 30-cent-an-hour raises for clerks (35 cents for meat cutters) through 2000.

With the rejection of the contract proposal, Local 555 believes grocery workers "are ready to do what it takes to close the gap."

Union officials met recently with shop stewards in Lane County to discuss "a course of action" but did not want to make any public disclosure.

Contract talks have not resumed and no mediators have been called, Sawyer said.


June 5, 1998 issue

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