PORTLAND, Ore. -- A strike against Fred Meyer stores here continued last week with no talks scheduled and both sides hanging tough.
The conflict, which began Aug. 18, could last longer than the 23-day standoff between Fred Meyer and the same union in 1990, both parties indicated. The strike affects the entire market because a number of operators, including Albertson's and Safeway, are locking out union employees in sympathy with Fred Meyer. Companies participating in the lockout operate under the same collective bargaining agreement. In all, more than 9,000 employees are affected in six counties in Oregon and Washington. That number has increased since a little over a week ago because a group of nonfood and general merchandise employees recently joined the striking food sector employees. A Federal mediator is involved in the case but hasn't called the two sides together.
"Everyone's digging in at this point," said Rick Sawyer, director of membership services for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, which is striking 26 area Fred Meyer stores.
Jill Eiland, spokeswoman for Food Employers here, the bargaining arm for the local supermarket companies, said the conflict may continue for some time, but the employers are determined to see it through. "They're willing to hang on. It's pretty big stakes," she said.
The central issue is the union's call for guarantees of full-time employment for 60% of store employees. Management has countered with a plan that would enable senior workers to take hours from junior employees, a proposal rejected by the union. There are also secondary disagreements over wages.
Both sides conceded that Fred Meyer has been hurt by the picketing, but they differed about how much. Fred Meyer and the other operators have hired replacement workers to run the stores. In a statement last week accompanying its release of second-quarter financial results, Robert G. Miller, chairman and chief executive officer of Fred Meyer, said the company is determined to win. "All stores affected are fully stocked and operating, as are the distribution center and trucking operations," he said. "The company is determined to settle these labor disputes in a manner that will not have a long-term negative impact on the company. We are also committed to taking the necessary steps to rebuild our business once the strike ends."
However, Miller added, the company's short-term financial performance will be affected.
"There will be a material negative effect on our third-quarter results," he said. "The impact is a one-time event, and we continue to expect to achieve our longer-term goals."
Although the two sides have avoided talks, the union sent a letter to Fred Meyer president and chief operating officer Cyril Green last week asking for a meeting to clarify the issues, following the executive's recent press conference about the strike, Sawyer said.
The strike began about a month after contracts expired and about six weeks after bargaining talks had begun. In addition to the action by UFCW workers, a group of employees from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters at Fred Meyer's Clackamus, Ore., distribution center joined the strike.