Clock continues to tick toward potential grocery strike

SEATTLE -- The clock continues to tick toward a potential grocery strike as Friday is the last day of scheduled negotiations, and both sides report they are still far apart on several issues.

If negotiations break down Friday, workers could strike as early as Tuesday, and union workers at stores like Safeway are getting ready with as much as 10,000 picket signs almost ready to go.

Union spokesperson Tom Geiger says while the union and Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons chains are closer then ever on some issues, on others like health care, holiday pay and raises -- they're still far apart.

"There is still a tremendously large pile or significant pile of proposals that remain on the table," Geiger said.

If there is a strike, 30,000 workers all over Puget Sound area -- from checkers to the meat department, the deli, the bakery, produce, and even delivery truck drivers would all hit the picket lines.

A spokesperson for all four grocery chains say the stores have contingency plans for replacement workers and reduced store hours if that happens.

Most shoppers we spoke to said a picket line probably wouldn't stop them from walking into a Safeway or QFC.

"It's a tough question -- I mean, I have to eat," said one shopper.

Parker Spelman, who is a cashier at Fred Meyer, says his fellow workers don't want to strike but they will.

"Yeah, I have to," he said.

In the meantime, independent stores like Thriftway say they're taking a lot of applications from union grocery workers.

"They have bills to pay and they have - you know - families to feed," said store director Brian Bixenman.

They're also getting ready for those shoppers who will avoid stores on strike.

"If it happens, we'll be ready and do what we can to take care of our customers -- or anybody else's for that matter that want to come here," Bixenman said.

Negotiations between the two sides will continue into Friday night. At the end, three things could happen: There could be a resolution, they could decide to keep negotiating at a later date, or workers could decide to strike.