Safeway delivery drivers make history with newly ratified union contract

(Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

A group of 90 drivers became the store's first home grocery delivery drivers to ratify a union contract this week. The final vote came after almost a year of negotiations and a strike authorization vote, according to an International Brotherhood of Teamsters media release.

The newly ratified contract includes wage increases, with some drivers receiving double-digit percentage raises. It will also gives the drivers access to more affordable healthcare, something that was not possible before since they are considered part-time employees, according to the media release.

The drivers covered under the new contract are based in Washington state, with 60 belonging to Local 174 and 30 belonging to Local 313.

Teamsters spokesperson Jamie Fleming said the contract enacts a fair pay system for all workers, taking seniority into account. She described the old pay system as chaotic, with no real rhyme or reason behind pay rates.  

“I can’t wait to work under this new contract,” driver and Bargaining Committee member Michael Fanning said in a media release. “There are so many improvements. . .the difference in our day-to-day life on the job is going to be like night and day. I’m psyched.”

Fleming said the contract also brings major improvements to available healthcare options, allowing drivers to secure health insurance for themselves and their families.

“The healthcare is going to make a huge difference for a lot of people,” she said. “It was an emotional moment for many to realize they’ll be able to afford healthcare for their families, some for the first time ever.”

The drivers will join the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Plan, allowing them to build a secure retirement plan. Fleming said this is “nearly unheard of” for part-time employees. Other contract benefits include improved scheduling rules and daily guarantees.

“This contract means security. We finally have some security in our schedules, in our jobs, and in our retirement. We’ve never had that before. This is huge,” 12-year driver and Bargaining Committee member Jeff Frazier said in a media release.

Fleming said she hopes other grocery delivery drivers across the nation are inspired to unionize after hearing about this contract.

“We hope this becomes more of a trend,” she said. “When other companies see that we don’t put Safeway out of business, hopefully they’ll see that unions aren’t the boogeyman they may think.”

She said unions have the ability to improve the state of last mile delivery, an industry that has been impacted significantly by the gig economy.

“Especially with the gig economy taking off, there are a lot of people being taken advantage of,” Fleming said. “There’s so much opportunity for abuse in the gig economy, and unionizing can help get rid of some of that abuse.”

The term "gig economy" refers to the trend of short-term contract and freelance work becoming more prevalent.