Grocery workers face strike vote

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Union grocery workers for Safeway and City Market in Steamboat Springs are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to approve a new contract or go on strike, said a spokeswoman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Denver.

Union representative Shirley Ballard said voting sessions would be at 8 a.m., 1 and 7 p.m. at the Hampton Inn on U.S. Highway 40 in Steamboat Springs. The vote will affect about 140 grocery workers between the two Steamboat stores. Their main point of contention with management is about employee contributions to health insurance costs. The grocery stores also are seeking lower entry-level pay.

In Steamboat, grocery workers have contracts separate from those of the 17,000 workers on Colorado's Front Range. Contracts on the Western Slope have expired, and negotiations have not begun. However, Front Range talks are driving events in small cities such as Steamboat.

"Unless and until Local 7 agrees to an extension of the Western Slope contracts, any action affecting the Front Range would also affect the Western Slope," said Pete Webb, a spokesman for both grocery store chains.

Historically, when there has been a grocery strike in Steamboat, the union has picketed just one of the two dominant food stores. This year, there has been no word of what strategy might be used in the event of a strike.

Dave Minshall, a union spokesman, said that about 1,500 workers voted during the first of three sessions in Denver on Thursday morning and that heavy participation is expected in the afternoon and evening sessions. Only about 54 percent of those eligible to vote took part in the Colorado Springs session Wednesday.

About 70 workers at the Steamboat City Market are covered by the UFCW7 contracts. They include cashiers, produce clerks, stockers, courtesy clerks and floral shop workers. Workers in the meat, deli and seafood departments are not affected by the contracts, said a City Market spokesman.

The Steamboat Safeway store employs 70 people, and all but six work under union contracts. The six people who are not union members include two managers, two pharmacists and two pharmacy technicians.

Safeway has been advertising for replacement workers in Steamboat, and there is a possibility that the grocery chains would lock out their state workers until a new contract is ratified.

Workers at the Craig City Market are not union members, and many of the Craig Safeway workers are.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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