In less than a week, unionized workers at two Arizona grocery store chains may be walking a picket line instead of stocking shelves and cutting meat.
Fry's Food Stores has begun advertising for thousands of temporary workers in the event its estimated 13,000 hourly workers strike.
Fry's recruitment ads began running Saturday and offer a starting wage of $9.50 per hour. Safeway spokeswoman Cathy Kloos said the chain is preparing to do the same.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 has threatened to call a strike if the companies and the union fail to reach a contract deal by 6 p.m. Friday.
The union represents most hourly workers at the two grocery chains, including clerks, stockers, meat cutters, produce workers and baggers.
The workers typically make between $7.20 and $12.05 per hour and can expect to receive $100 per week in strike pay if they walk out.
Health care benefits are the main issue between the chains and the union.
The companies have traditionally paid for their employees' health insurance and now want them to shoulder more of the cost.
"Some of our members haven't had a raise in six years," said Jim McLaughlin, United Food & Commercial Local 99 President.
McLaughlin noted that no-cost health care always has been thought of by workers as an offset to the relatively low wages they receive.
"They feel they are already paying premiums through their low wages and are firmly against any proposal that would require them to pay more," McLaughlin said.
This week, McLaughlin said in a note to the rank-and-file that a strike against one or more of the companies now appears likely.
Fry's Food Stores spokeswoman JoEllen Lynn said the company believes it has made a fair offer and is disappointed the union is now organizing for a strike.
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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com