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Grocery workers picket for medical benefits

Grocery workers picket last week in front of Albertsons on Wheaton Way. - Seraine Page
Grocery workers picket last week in front of Albertsons on Wheaton Way.
— image credit: Seraine Page

On Aug. 28, union workers gathered together for informational pickets as a way to advocate for grocery workers’ healthcare rights.

“We’re fighting for our medical benefits,” said UFCW 21 Union Representative Leroy Taylor, Jr. “We’re fired up. We won’t take it anymore. We’re doing smaller demonstrations to avoid a more serious one.”

According to union workers, their benefits are fine as of right now. In order to qualify for future healthcare benefits, workers would need to put in a minimum of 30 hours a week, among other requirements that don’t sit well with union grocery store workers.

“Grocery store workers have been in contract negotiations since March,” states the UFCW website. “Despite more than 12 bargaining sessions and a first round of informational pickets in July, the companies have continued to stick to proposals that would stop providing health care coverage of employees working less than 30 hours a week, deny workers paid sick days, and cut pay including for those who work on holidays. A potential strike vote is set for the end of September depending on the progress of negotiations.”

Linda Mallonee, who came to Bremerton from Sequim to join the protest in front of Albertsons on Wheaton Way, said that the newest terms are unacceptable.

“I laugh at the word bargaining. There’s no bargaining when it comes to my healthcare,” said the 21-year union member and grocery worker. “They want more for less. They are threatening our livelihood.”

She knows too many who depend on their current healthcare plans to take care of their entire family, and taking it away is unfair, she said.

Mallonee said she has seen fellow union workers’ hours decreased and cut pay on holidays. In the past two decades, Mallonee she’s never seen anything like this come up on the table. Healthcare benefits have never been so severely threatened, she said.

More than thirty locations swarmed with union workers holding informational pickets on Aug. 28, said Taylor, Jr., including some as far as Seattle. Workers chanted and held signs reading, “Fair pay for hard work” while shouting various chants.

“Their benefits are my benefits, but it is their contacts we’re fighting for,” said Taylor, Jr. of the 30,000 workers who would be impacted.

Taylor, Jr. emphasized the idea of the picket isn’t to keep people from shopping at chains like Safeway or Albertsons, but to notify people of what’s going on with the big corporations. Negotiations are still in the works, and the union workers will gather at the Kitsap Bremerton Conference Center for a vote in late September.

 

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