Fairbanks Fred Meyer workers’ contract talks at impasse

a Fred Meyer store
West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store was the highest-grossing store in the Kroger chain in 2016. (Courtesy Alaska Dispatch)

Fred Meyer stores in Fairbanks are negotiating a contract with a union representing some of their workers. But the parties have reached an impasse, and the union has asked for a third-party negotiator to break the stalemate.

Not all Fred Meyer employees are covered by a union. Your meat at the butcher counter may be cut by a member, but the clerk who checks you out of the store is not covered.

Silvana Tirban is the Fairbanks unit representative and secretary/treasurer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1496. She said three different bargaining units in Fairbanks are negotiating for new contracts at the same time.

“So, it is all of the West store food departments, which includes produce, deli, bakery, liquor store, Starbucks, our grocery stockers, receiving clerks. And then side by side, even though it is a separate contract, we are negotiating at the same time, is also the meat and seafood department, and the meat and seafood department at Fred Meyer East as well,” Tirban said.

The meat and seafood workers in both the East and West Fairbanks Fred Meyer stores are not in the same unit as the center-store grocery workers. All three units had contracts that expired Dec. 7, and are working on an extension the union signed with Fred Meyer.

Tirban said the last pay increase they saw was in December 2021. She also said the stores are having difficulty attracting and keeping workers.

“The employer is having a hard time hiring. They’re having a hard time retaining employees. And they sure realize that better wages and benefits are a part of that problem,” she said.

According to Tirban the Fred Meyer West store is down 114 employees – a number not confirmed by Fred Meyer’s parent corporation, Kroger.

Sean Hammond, Kroger’s senior director of labor relations, has been flying up to Fairbanks from Oregon for recent negotiations. However, he was not available to comment for this story.

Tiffany Sanders, a Washington-based Fred Meyer spokesperson, responded instead by email.

“Our goal at Fred Meyer is to negotiate a contract with UFCW Local 1496 that rewards our associates by putting more money in their paychecks, continues to provide industry leading healthcare, and a savings for when they retire,” Sanders wrote. “We will balance these investments with keeping groceries affordable for our customers.” 

Neither party has commented on any connections between contract negotiations and the pending merger of Kroger with Albertson’s – the parent corporations for Fred Meyer and Safeway stores. UFCW Local 1496 also represents workers at Carrs Safeway stores in Alaska.

a UFCW official
Frank Mutchie, president of UFCW Local 1496, addressed grocery workers in Anchorage when they signed a new contract with Carrs stores in March 2022. (Courtesy UFCW)

Negotiations between the Fred Meyer stores and the workers started in October. Tirban said Fred Meyer stopped moving forward on better wages or adopting a proposed health and welfare plan for workers, and contract negotiations came to a standstill in December.

According to Tirban, the employees were among the essential workers helping customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were asked to work from home.

“Our Fred Meyer members were here for them in a time of need during a global health crisis, by showing up to work every day, making sure that the shelves were stocked, the meat cases were full, cheese was sliced, bread was baked,” she said. “They took care of Fred Meyer customers at a time when the world around them shut down, at a time when many corporate executives worked from home.”

Tirban said she thinks the community supports the employees.

“The employees are the reason why the stores were able to remain open, and they’re the reason why Fred Meyer is so profitable,” she said.

The parties will meet with a mediator from Jan. 23 through Jan. 25.

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