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Fred Meyer workers' contract talks at impasse

Alaska Dispatch
West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store was the highest-grossing store in the Kroger chain in 2016.

Fred Meyer stores in Fairbanks are negotiating a contract with the United Food and Commercial Worker's Union. But the parties have reached an impasse and the union has asked for a third-party negotiator to break the stalemate.

Not all Fred Meyer employees are covered by a union. Your meat at the butcher counter may be cut by a member, but the clerk who checks you out of the store is not covered.

Silvana Tirban is the Unit Representative for Fairbanks for United Food and Commercial Worker's Union Local 1496, or UFCW and the union’s Secretary/Treasurer. She says, right now there are three different bargaining units in Fairbanks who are negotiating for new contracts at the same time.

So, it is all of the West store food departments, which includes produce, deli, bakery, liquor store, Starbucks, our grocery stockers, receiving clerks. And then side by side, even though it is a separate contract, we are negotiating at the same time, is also the meat and seafood department, and the meat and seafood department at Fred Meyer East as well,” Tirban said.

In case you’re confused, the meat and seafood workers in both the East and West Fairbanks Fred Meyer stores are not in the same unit as the center-store grocery workers. All three units had contracts that expired December 7, and are working on an extension the union signed with Fred Meyer.

Tirban said there last was a pay increase in December, 2021. She says the stores are having difficulty in hiring and retaining workers.

“The employer is having a hard time hiring. They're having a hard time retaining employees. and they sure realize that better wages and benefits are a part of that problem,” Turban said.

She says the Fred Meyer West store is down 114 employees, although we’ve not been able to confirm that with Kroger.

Sean Hammond is the Senior Director of Labor Relations at Kroger out of Canby, Oregon. He has been flying up to Fairbanks for recent negotiations. However, he was not available to comment for this story.

Instead, Tiffany Sanders, Fred Meyer Corporate Affairs Manager out of Bellevue, Washington, responded by email: Quote: “Our goal at Fred Meyer is to negotiate a contract with UFCW Local 1496 that rewards our associates by putting more money in their paychecks, continues to provide industry leading healthcare, and a savings for when they retire. We will balance these investments with keeping groceries affordable for our customers,” Sanders wrote.

Neither party has commented on any connections between contract negotiations and the pending merger of Kroger and Albertson’s companies – the parent corporations for Fred Meyer and Safeway stores. UFCW Local 1496 also represents workers at Safeway and Carr’s stores in Alaska.

Courtesy UFCW
President of the store workers' union, Frank Mutchie of UFCW Local 1496, addressed grocery workers in Anchorage when they signed a new contract with Carrs stores in March, 2022.

Negotiations between the Fred Meyer stores and the workers started in October. Silvana Tirban of UFCW says Fred Meyer stopped moving forward on better wages or adopting a proposed health and welfare plan for workers, and contract negotiations came to a standstill in December. She says she thinks the community supports the workers.

“Our Fred Meyer members were here for them in a time of need during a global health crisis, by showing up to work every day, making sure that the shelves were stocked, the meat cases were full, cheese was sliced, bread was baked. They took care of Fred Meyer customers at a time when the world around them shut down, at a time when many corporate executives worked from home.

The employees are the reason why the stores were able to remain open, and they're the reason why Fred Meyer is so profitable,” Tirban said.

The parties will meet with a mediator from January 23 through 25.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.