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November 22, 2002 - OREGON -- Unionized grocery workers and employers at three large companies here have been unable to reach an agreement in ongoing labor talks, raising the possibility of a strike during the busy holiday season.
The union has set Sunday as the target for either a contract vote or a strike, said Rick Sawyer, a labor spokesman. The strike would begin in Lane County, where contract talks are being held, and could spread to other areas, including Coos, Marion, Lincoln and Linn counties, he said.
Albertsons, Fred Meyer and Safeway are seeking temporary workers, including grocery clerks and meat cutters, in the event of a strike.
About 1,200 Oregon employees of the three chains have been without a contract since February. Nine bargaining sessions have proved fruitless. Differences include proposed changes in pension contributions, medical insurance and wages.
Employers also want to create a two-tier wage structure in which new employees would be paid less, including a health care plan that costs employers less.
The three grocery chains are trying to lower expenses due to increasing health care costs and competition in Lane County from nonunion competitors. All three are also bracing for an increased presence from Wal-Mart, which plans to expand in the region over the next few years.
Several unions and advocacy groups staged rallies in 40 U.S. cities Thursday, including Portland. Nearly 200 people picketed outside the city's Wal-Mart store on Southeast Powell Boulevard with signs demanding a "living wage."
Union leaders say the unionized stores are trying to compete with Wal-Mart by extracting concessions from workers.