With Fred Meyer and QFC settled, members and staff of Local 555 have made history. The strike of 2021 has led to big wins not just in the affected stores, but for Union members all across the Northwest. In the wake of our victory, it’s important to understand what led us to this moment.
When the pandemic first slammed the United States in 2020, it became immediately clear to the nation that grocery workers are essential workers. In the last couple of years, the community has shown solidarity with our members in ways they never have before. Our members, too, have never been more in support of one another as they have been when facing this pandemic.
While going on strike is never Plan A, the power of the Union lies in always leaving the option open. Well before negotiations came to a head, Local 555 staff reached out to Fred Meyer and QFC shoppers, because a strike cannot succeed without being grounded in the community. We discussed the challenges our members face such as occupational safety, insufficient wages, and employer contract infractions. Our community responded with an outpouring of support.
As the possibility of a strike grew closer, dozens of members stepped up and offered to lead the charge as picket captains. Long-time members and new hires alike took on the responsibility. These volunteers trained on guiding their fellow workers on the line and ensuring that it remained strong throughout the potential strike. Many even took the time to assemble the strike signs that would later be held in front of their stores.
We knew we could take home a historic contract this year if we created the right pressures and applied them in the right places. When the employers refused to budge in negotiations in the early morning of December 17th, the call was made and thousands of members courageously walked off the job and joined the picket line. What followed was a bold expression of solidarity. Members stood together with their families, their communities, and their fellow workers to send a message to their employer: “We are essential, not disposable!” Our members were proven right.
Just after midnight the next day, on December 18th, a deal was struck, and the strike lines came down. Our members went back to work with a tentative agreement, later ratified, that granted unprecedented wage increases, and a stronger position for workers in their workplace, for Journeypersons and Apprentices alike.
As a union we were also able to eliminate the CCK (Combination Checkout Clerk) contract, and merge it into the Grocery contract over 2 years. Raises for members formally under the CCK contract are substantial. The move makes a lot of sense. There should not be two different contracts for people who do the same job.
How society and employers approach issues like pandemics, wildfires, and workplace violence has been highlighted over the past few years. Our new, contractually- obligated safety committees are designed to proactively address potential safety issues at work, and are empowered to elevate issues to union leaders and management when a solution cannot be agreed on in-store. It’s proactive rather than reactive. We believe that this will lead to a safer workplace, with and without regard to the ongoing pandemic. Long-time Union members may have noticed we reached a Tentative Agreement for these contracts much faster than in previous negotiations. We negotiated with the intent to reduce the need for retroactive pay. When we win a contract before expiration, member’s receive raises immediately instead of having it held by their employers until the contract is settled.
The labor movement is most powerful when it’s committed to leaving no member behind. Our committee’s dedication to the entire membership ensured that we successfully raised the wage floor across the store, not just for the journeypersons. We are still in negotiations for Albertsons and Safeway, and are on our way to a strong settlement for those members soon. At the time of this writing, the next negotiation dates are February 7th and 8th.