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United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555

Nearly 600 Kelso-Longview area grocery store workers will take a strike authorization vote at the end of this month, following suit with almost 35 other union branches that voted in June.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, a union that represents grocery store workers among other laborers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, is in the midst of year-long contract negotiations with Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons and QFC stores that have hit a standstill over wages, union spokeswoman Kelley McAllister said Wednesday.

“Their proposals are vastly different than ours. We consider their offer to be somewhat insulting, especially when you look at what our members have to go through. Some are not paid enough to provide food for their own families,” McAllister said.

At Fred Meyer stores specifically, employees are paid under one of two salary schedules based on which department of the store they work in. The average hourly wage for “schedule A” workers — such as grocery checkers, courtesy clerks and regular grocery workers — is $17.22, while the average wage for “schedule B” workers such as bakery and deli employees is $13.69, according to the UFCW 555 website.

Grocery workers are asking for an overall wage increase, as well as an extra boost for the schedule B employees. (The majority of schedule B workers are women, while the majority of schedule A workers are men. McAlliser noted that the $3.53 discrepancy between the schedules is representative of a gender pay gap.)

“The idea is that every schedule needs an increase, and every contract needs an increase. And we would like to see schedule B increase a little bit more. … because we would like to get that gap fixed,” McAlliser said.

McAllister declined to share the specific terms of the raises the union is asking for. However, she noted that the corporate stores’ offers are “nickels and dimes compared to (our) dollars.”

Fred Meyer’s current offer suggests raising schedule A wages by about 80 cents per hour over the next three years and schedule B wages $1.10 per hour over the next three years.

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Representative with Fred Meyer and Safeway could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

No union members are striking yet, McAllister said. Rather, authorization votes allow the union’s bargaining team to call for a strike as it deems necessary. The last authorization vote is scheduled for Aug. 16 in McMinnville.

So far, about 35 UFCW 555 branches across Portland, Bend and Madras, Ore., have voted to authorize a strike. The votes were all “unanimous or within a point or two of being unanimous,” McAllister said.

“Everyone who has had a strike vote meeting has overwhelmingly authorized it so far,” she said. “I think our members are understandably fed up. They put up with lower wage increases in the past in order to allow for more money to be put into the pension and the health and welfare trust. Now that those are fully funded … it’s time for wages.”

Another 40 branches are scheduled to take their vote throughout this month.

Kelso-Longview area employees will take their strike authorization vote on July 30 and 31. McAllister said there are about 600 union members in those two cities.

UFCW 555 grocery workers last struck in 1994, McAllister said. But Longview employees haven't participated in a union strike since a 115-day strike in 1988, she added.

Though wages are not the only point of contention in the contract negotiations, they are the “most visceral, intuitive and overwhelming piece that is left,” McAllister said. “I think there are lots of other pieces to touch, but this is the one that people get behind because it’s their paycheck.”

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