PORTLAND, Ore. -- An employee strike against Fred Meyer Inc.'s stores here has prompted other local operators to lock out union workers in a standoff now affecting some 8,200 employees in five counties. Chains including Albertson's and Safeway and independents including Thriftway, all of whom operate under the same collective bargaining agreement as Fred Meyer, joined in the lockout. These operators and Fred Meyer hired replacement workers to keep the stores operating. Management and labor had made little progress as of late last week in ending the strike, which began Aug 18. Neither side expressed much optimism that the problems would be rectified soon.
Some observers said a protracted strike could be devastating to Fred Meyer and might help Safeway, which recently remodeled its local stores, gain market share for the long term.
Safeway is based in Oakland, Calif., and Albertson's in Boise, Idaho.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 targeted Fred Meyer's 26 area stores after talks failed to produce a new employee contract. However, because operators in the region have a multi-employer contract, they are acting collectively to lock out the union, said Jill Eiland, spokeswoman for Food Employers Inc. here, the bargaining arm for the supermarkets.
A central issue in the dispute is the scheduling of employees. The union seeks a guarantee that 60% of employees at all stores will be full-time. Management has declined to grant that demand, and instead is offering to build up the hours of senior workers by taking hours from junior employees.
Rick Sawyer, director of membership services for the UFCW local, which represents the affected workers, said the conflict has disabled Fred Meyer's stores -- which are the only ones being picketed -- and has caused other operators participating in the lockout to cut back hours. He claimed some companies are selectively locking out only some employees, which he interpreted to mean that solidarity is weakening.
Sawyer also said operators are encountering staffing problems.
"There isn't a big pool of replacement workers to choose from, and the stores don't have that many workers now," he said.
Eiland denied the union claims, and said only a few stores, primarily in rural areas, have opted to avoid a lockout, with the full approval of the others.
Eiland also said more than 100 Fred Meyer employees have crossed picket lines.
Fred Meyer officials couldn't be reached for comment about how developments are affecting that chain.
Of the 8,200 employees affected at various companies in the region, about 6,000 are in four Oregon counties -- Multnomah, Washington, Yam Hill and Columbia. The strike also affects about 1,000 workers in Vancouver in Washington state, and about 1,200 workers at Fred Meyer's Clackamus, Ore., distribution center have joined in the dispute. They are represented by two locals of the Teamsters union.
The striking employees at Fred Meyer work in grocery, meatcutting and central checkout. The union hopes to involve an additional 2,000 nonfood and general merchandise employees in the work stoppage, Sawyer said.
Gary Giblen, an analyst with PaineWebber, New York, said Fred Meyer stands to be a big loser. "For each day that the strike goes on, there is an exponential effect on the business of Fred Meyer," he said. "It also affects Fred Meyer stores in other markets because of the strike at the distribution center."