Safeway workers threaten strike in March if contract deal not reached

Union employees are not satisfied with the current contract proposed by Safeway, which the workers said cuts health care and pension benefits, and freezes new hires in D.C. and Maryland at minimum wage for the next three years. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Thousands of Safeway workers are ready to strike if they don’t get what they consider a fair contract by March 5. If a deal isn’t reached, Safeway stores across the D.C. area could be forced to close.

The representatives of United Food and Commercial Workers 400 said they were able to reach a deal with Giant on Tuesday evening, and hope that’s a sign that negotiations with Safeway can soon be put to bed.

At a rally outside the Safeway on the Southwest D.C. waterfront, hundreds of workers chanted, “We work, we sweat, we want more in our check.”

“We want fair raises. You know — cost of living goes up, everything goes up,” said Shirley Tucker, who has worked for Safeway for 26 years. She is currently at the Edgewater, Maryland, store.

Tucker joined more than 100 union employees who are not satisfied with the current contract proposed by Safeway, which the workers said cuts health care and pension benefits, and freezes new hires in D.C. and Maryland at minimum wage for the next three years.

“You know, you’re going to treat your old-timers like dirt, really,” Tucker said.

“We’re going to take a vote on March 5,” said Jonathan Williams, with UFCW. “If we don’t have a fair contract by then, it’s our belief that our members will vote in favor of a strike.”

In a statement, Safeway said, “We are committed to remain at the bargaining table to work through our challenges and reach an agreement that rewards our employees.”

Marshall McIntosh is considering looking for another job if the negotiations go on. He has worked at a Safeway in downtown D.C. for five years in the frozen food section, which he said is a position no one else wants. He cannot afford to have his benefits cut.

“What we’re living off now is not going to work,” he said.

Williams said Giant employees are supporting Safeway workers in solidarity after reaching a deal they are happy with. He hopes Safeway will look to the contract Giant offered and match it.

Workers, Williams said, “deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Giant has made an offer that does that. We’d like to see Safeway do the same.”

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