Arizona grocery strike averted with tentative deal

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2009 1:37 PM

Thousands of Arizona supermarket workers won't go on strike as they planned Friday night after union leaders and two grocery chains announced a tentative labor deal 12 hours before the protest was to begin.

Union members will vote on an unspecified date to decide whether to ratify the deal reached late Thursday. Labor leaders were recommending that members approve it.

Until then, the union, Safeway Inc. and The Kroger Co., which owns Fry's and Smith's, agreed to extend the previous contract.

No details of the deal were released publicly.

Ellen Anreder, spokeswoman for Food and Commercial Workers union Local 99, said the union has agreed not to reveal the contents of the deal until its members can vote on it. "We have to give the members an opportunity to review everything first," Anreder said.

A statement released by the union and the stores says there will be no work stoppage and that all stores will continue to operate normally.

"It's great that we got our own people in our stores during the ratification process. You'll see the same friendly faces that you're accustomed to," said Fry's spokeswoman Meghan Glynn.

Cathy Kloos, a spokeswoman for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, said, "I believe our employees are relieved that a strike has been averted."

After negotiating with the companies for more than a year, the union had threatened to strike if no deal was reached by 6 p.m. Friday.

The biggest sticking point was a health care fee for new employees. Depending on how many family members are covered, the $5-$15 weekly fee would amount to nearly $800 a year for some workers.

The union said members also wanted a pay increase, as some employees _ earning an average of $15,000 to $20,000 a year _ hadn't gotten a raise in nine years.

The chains had prepared for a strike. Safeway, which as 116 stores in Arizona, hired 2,500 temporary workers. Cincinnati-based Kroger, which has 120 Fry's stores in the state, had 6,100 temporary workers ready.

The previous five-year contract between the union and the companies expired in October 2008. Employees have worked under a series of extensions.

The companies offered new proposals in September that were rejected by union members, who gave labor leaders the authority to strike against one or both of the companies.

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Associated Press Writer Mark Carlson contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Safeway Inc.: http://www.safeway.com

The Kroger Co.: http://www.kroger.com

United Food and Commercial Workers International: http://www.ufcw.org