Picketing grocery store workers. Bruce Harrell and Ed Murray are in the middle.
Over at the QFC on Broadway and Pike today, a crowd of grocery store union workers paraded out front with picket signs. But they're not striking, say workers—this is one of 12 informational pickets happening today to bring public awareness to the contract negotiations currently happening, and which aren't going well.
And this Capitol Hill picket brought out mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Ed Murray. Why were they here today? "I'm a third-generation union person," Harrell told me. "It's in my DNA." Said Murray, "There's a real race to the bottom in the private sector. And as someone who's shopped at the QFC down the street for 29 years... I just want to be here with them." The crowd chanted and sang behind them.
But it's not just a casual photo op—the information that grocery workers want to get out there, says Tom Geiger, UFCW 21 communications director, is that their ongoing contract negotiations with the grocery stores are deteriorating. They've "gotten worse, not better" as they've gone along, says Geiger. He assured me that "we're a long way between now and what could be a strike situation," but maintained that what the national grocery chains are asking for is unacceptable, and they want you to know it.
Among the biggest sticking points, according to the flyer they're handing out to passersby: (1) The stores want to eliminate health care for employees working less than 30 hours a week and jack up health care costs for everyone else. (2) They want to eliminate a current guarantee that all employees are paid at least 10 cents an hour above minimum wage. And (3), possibly most troubling, Geiger says they want to use a bargaining clause in the city's paid sick time ordinance to bargain their way out of paying for sick days, and in addition, says Geiger, have workers preemptively give up paid sick days that might be enacted in future laws.
UFCW 21 represents 30,000 grocery store workers, who are working under a contract that was set to expire May 4 but has been mutually extended in bargaining, currently set to expire on July 11. If they were to strike, it would be after that date. They're bargaining with Allied Employers, who bargains on behalf of multiple grocery chain employers. Allied Employers has not responded to a call for comment.
Reporting from the scene, Charles Mudede says he crossed the (kinda-sorta) picket line to buy a sandwich earlier today. He did not seem to feel guilty about it.
UPDATE: Robert Cruickshank from the mayor's office called to say that Mayor McGinn was also participating in a picket today, only up at the Roosevelt Safeway. Because he "supports good union jobs," says Cruickshank—and likely also because HOT WINGS.
More photos after the jump.
Senator Ed Murray walks the line.
Council member Bruce Harrell and some complete stranger who just happens to be wearing a "Bruce Harrell for Mayor" T-shirt.