At the SE Hawthorne and Cesar Chavez Fred Meyer, a sign seeking replacement workers in case of a strike has been partially obscured by a union sticker.
At the SE Hawthorne and Cesar Chavez Fred Meyer, a sign seeking replacement workers in case of a strike has been partially obscured by a union sticker. KATHLEEN MARIE

Thousands of Oregon grocery store workers and their employers are arming themselves for a looming strike.

A couple weeks ago, the roughly 20,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 (UFCW Local 555)—a union representing grocery store employees in Oregon and Southwest Washington—voted to authorize a strike. That vote came during a drawn-out contract negotiation process, in which employers and workers haven’t been able to reach an agreement about wage increases.

A union vote to authorize a strike doesn’t necessarily mean a strike will happen—but Fred Meyer doesn’t appear to be taking any chances. The grocery giant, one of the employers in the negotiation process (others include Safeway, QFC, and Albertson’s), posted fliers at its Oregon stores over the weekend seeking replacement workers in the event of a strike. The signs promise a $15 hourly wage.

That move isn’t sitting well with UFCW Local 555 members, many of whom do not make $15 an hour themselves. According to a recent union-financed study from an independent research firm, the median hourly wage for Fred Meyer "Journeymen"—the company's name for longtime employees—is $13.50 for women and $17.20 for men.

“We think that it’s appalling,” Kelley McAllister, a union spokesperson, told the Mercury. “We wish they would share some of those resources with people who have given their lives and careers to this company.”

McAllister added that the union believes Fred Meyer has “jumped the gun” by advertising for temporary workers before an actual strike has been announced. She said they see this as “a technique to scare our workers.” To McAllister's knowledge, no other grocery employers involved with negotiations have begun seeking replacement workers yet.

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In a statement shared with KATU, a Fred Meyer spokesperson said that “Our goal is to avoid a strike, and reach a fair and balanced agreement that works well for our associates and our stores.”

UFCW Local 555 will announce its plan moving forward on Tuesday. McAllister said that plan will likely include “economic action,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean a strike. Calling for a customer boycott, for example, is another economic action that unions often take.

A strike, McAllister said, is a “last resort.”