Photos courtesy of UFCW Local 367

Grocery union members set up a countdown clock to a strike in Seattle’s Westlake Park, with the countdown reaching two hours before a last minute deal was struck on Monday evening. The clock attracted large crowds and television cameras over the weekend. The countdown’s digits were then replaced by a message of gratitude from union employees.

With just two hours left on the clock before a strike declaration, negotiators for grocery store union workers and four major grocery chains struck a preliminary deal on a new contract Oct. 21.

The agreement was made at 5 p.m., according to the website of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 367, which represents roughly 4,000 grocery workers in Pierce County.

The union, along with Teamsters 38 in Snohomish County and UFCW 21 in Seattle, was threatening a strike against Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and QFC over, among other issues, cuts to health care benefits.

Details of the tentative agreement will not be made public pending ratification, according to a release from Scott Powers of Allied Employers, which was in charge of negotiations for the four grocery chains.

A statement on the UFCW Local 367 website confirmed the tentative deal has been unanimously recommended by the union bargaining team.

Past that, spokesperson Kat Overman of UFCW Local 367 said the union is declining to talk further about the agreement until after its members has voted. Language is being finalized for such a vote, Overman said, although the vote itself has not been planned.

The times and locations of those vote meetings will be announced after they are scheduled, per the statement on UFCW 367's site.

Announcement of the tentative pact signaled an end to a days-long negotiation session, one that began last Wednesday. Had a strike not been averted, it would have been the first local grocery strike since 1989.

Indeed, there were times when the outlook seemed grim. Strike rumors had percolated publicly for two months, and earlier in October, Local 367 released a statement on its website announcing that strike captains have been named and teams were preparing to get mobilized. The union's statement also noted that negotiations were ongoing, but the word on the street wasn't quite as rosy.

“They just put up the signs, the 'scab signs.' So it doesn't look good,” said a Pierce County Fred Meyer clerk who wished not to be named.

“These companies really need to come to their senses and come up with a proposal that (their employees) can live with,” said UFCW spokesman Tom Geiger on Oct. 6.

Antes were raised when UFCW Local 367 members in Mason and Thurston counties voted to join their Pierce County counterparts in authorizing a strike on Oct. 15, and again when Geiger announced that 72-hour strike notice was given on the evening of Oct. 18, after union members rejected then-current proposals and voted to approve a strike.

Negotiations, however, continued through the weekend until the Monday evening announcement of a resolution.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the unions that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees,” Powers said.