Possible walkout stirs local reaction
As the possibility of a Northern California grocery strike remained in limbo Monday, western Nevada County shoppers expressed mixed emotions about the potential walkout at several of the area’s major stores.
Customers interviewed at random by The Union weren’t aware that grocery store operators and the union representing 19,000 of their workers decided late Friday to continue working under a contract that expired at midnight Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said David Higgins of Camptonville as he exited Albertsons in Grass Valley with a sack of charcoal briquettes. “As long as they have cheaper prices, I’ll go. As long as they’re open, I’ll go.”
Jim Steffen of Grass Valley had a different take on the possibility of a strike as he waited outside the store.
“My dad’s a union man; I’d never cross a picket line,” he said. “They have to do what they have to do.”
Steffen has shopped at Albertsons since it opened but said he would probably take his business to Raley’s if a picket line materializes at Fowler Center.
Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger – which operates Ralphs stores – are the major chains involved in the negotiations. The Raley’s chain also is involved in the negotiations, but Raley’s Grass Valley store is not unionized.
Monica Bates of Grass Valley said she backed the unionized workers but was not looking forward to the chances of a strike.
“I support the clerks,” she said outside Ralphs in Grass Valley. “I have trouble getting around, and Ralphs is close to where I live. I just hope they settle it.”
Officials of Local 588 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents clerks at 335 stores from Modesto to the Oregon border, said its members will work under the terms of the old agreement “as long as both sides agree to the extension.”
Representatives of Albertsons and Safeway said the extension will last until at least July 31, when it will become open-ended.
Union representatives said health benefits, pension funding and workplace protection are among the issues at the negotiations, which are continuing at an undisclosed location.
The union said that if either side decides to end the contract extension, union members would vote on the latest proposal by the employers. Approval would require a simple majority of voting members. A vote of two-thirds or more to reject the proposal would authorize a strike.
Safeway and Kroger endured a 4.5-month strike in Southern California that ended Feb. 29. Both grocery chains suffered significant losses.
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