Safeway and Fry’s stores expect to have enough workers to keep local stores open even if contract talks fall apart and a strike erupts.
“We are confident we will be able to operate our stores and serve our customers,” said Kerry Luginbill, Safeway spokeswoman.
But a strike in the next few days is unlikely, even though the current contract for about 15,000 Arizona supermarket workers is due to expire at midnight Saturday.
Even if the talks, which are slated to resume today, break down, a strike would have to be voted on by the workers — a procedure that takes at least a couple of days, said Mike Vespoli, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99. Vespoli said the union is gearing up for a walkout eventually but hopes the preparations prove unnecessary.
Even if Saturday night’s deadline nears without an agreement, the union would stay at the table if headway is made, he said. If not, and if a strike vote is called, a walkout could happen as soon as the middle of next week.
Meanwhile, the supermarket chains are also making plans, taking applications for temporary workers willing to step in if union members walk out. Both Luginbill and Fry’s spokesman Jim Nygren said they have not polled individual stores to see how many applicants signed up after the companies began advertising the potential positions Sunday.
“And there may be numbers of employees who choose to report to work,” Nygren said. Since Arizona is a right-to-work state, unions can’t force members to stay out even if the majority vote for a strike, he said.
Nygren said the company is offering the same pay scale — ranging from minimum wage to $15.25, depending on experience and position sought — to temporary workers that it pays employees for the same work under the current contract.
Luginbill said the companies are making it clear to applicants that any jobs would be temporary, and the union workers who walked out would get their jobs back once an agreement is forged.
In Arizona, only Fry’s and Safeway workers are unionized. Albertson’s and Bashas’ workers are not, and those stores wouldn’t be affected by union actions.
The issues separating both sides are health care coverage and premiums, shoring up the pension pot, which was decimated by the sagging economy, and a pay raise.
The supermarkets want union workers, who don’t pay any premiums for health care coverage, to pay part of the monthly costs and to limit eligibility to those who work at least 130 hours a month instead of the 80 hours that now qualify part-timers for full health care coverage.
The union wants health care coverage to remain as in the current contract, and for the supermarkets to kick in more money to the pension fund.
The supermarket companies said they need to trim expenses to stay competitive with other chains, especially Wal-Mart Supercenters.