Grocery store workers and supporters hold a rally for better healthcare benefits. (AP Photo/Bret Hartman)
Thousands of members of the United Food and Commercial Workers from popular chains such as QFC, Albertsons, Safeway and Fred Meyer cast ballots at the Lynnwood Convention Center in Washington this week. If passed, the measure would allow negotiators to take union members on strike if future negotiations break down.
According to workers, who have been in contract negotiations since March, the four major issues at stake are healthcare benefits, pay for holiday work, paid sick leave and obtaining living wages.
“I think our members are resolute,” Local 367 Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Comeau told the News Tribune. “They know that sometimes they have to take stands.”
The grocery stores are negotiating under the banner of Allied Employers. Union representatives have expressed frustration with what they call “take-backs,” which include harmful measures like an end to time-and-one-half on holidays and no offer of a permanent pay raise. However, the main concern is healthcare and the impact of the Affordable Care Act.
Stores have proposed that workers who work fewer than thirty hours a week get their health insurance from government insurance exchanges under healthcare reform, and to no longer be on the insurance plan now jointly managed by the unions and the companies, King 5 News reports.
The threshold for health coverage for nonunion competitors is thirty hours per week under the ACA.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we’re stuck covering part-time employees and our competitors don’t have to cover them,” said Scott Powers of Allied Employers, which represents the grocery companies, to Kiro TV.
Naturally, workers are distressed by the idea of losing their health coverage.
“It will be terrible, a lot of people are working just to get their health benefits,” said Safeway worker Ariana Davis.