Safeway Strike May Impact Local Shoppers

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Both management and staff at the Payson Safeway are saying little about a possible strike by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99.

Manager Dan Dillon directed questions to the corporation's public affairs office and Payson Safeway shop steward Carline Williams referred questions to the main office of the union in Phoenix.

The issues at the heart of the debate include health care costs, pension benefits, cuts in Sunday pay and lower benefits and pay for new hires.

"First of all, we're still in active negotiations and hope to reach a successful agreement," said Kerry Luginbill, director of public affairs for Safeway. "The stores will stay open and operating, so plans are being made to make sure that happens. Many employees may choose to come to work anyway. They have a choice because Arizona is a right-to-work state."

Even if there is a decision to strike, it won't happen until after the weekend, at least in Payson, said one employee who didn't want to be identified. The workers must take a vote on whether to support the decision, she said.

Luginbill said Safeway has not had a strike at the retail level in at least 25 years. She said the corporation presented its proposal to workers in mid-September and the union came back with a counter-proposal in mid-October. The two sides sat down to discuss things face-to-face after that.

As for the workers at the Payson Safeway, some are not sure what they are going to do; others feel they are obligated to go along with their union's decision.

Shoppers seemed to have mixed feelings too.

Neil MacVicar, a long-time resident and businessman, said he would not cross a picket line. He has been on both sides, serving as a shop steward and a negotiator years ago. He considers many of the workers in the Payson Safeway his friends and will support them. He said he thinks they will go out on strike if that is what they're told to do.

Another Safeway employee --lso wishing to remain anonymous --aid he didn't believe the Payson workers would walk out.

A retired resident, Phyllis Manthe, said she has known many of the store's workers from when the business was at its first location on the west side of Highway 87. She said she will not stop shopping at the store if there is a strike.

Both Safeway and union representatives have been in negotiations since Wednesday; the union contract expires Saturday.

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