Albertson's, King Soopers and Safeway all maintain that cutting salaries and benefits will be necessary to compete against the rise of nonunion Wal-Mart as a food retailer.
Talks are stalled without a foreseeable end and without an imminent strike, said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 spokesman Dave Minshall. The chains offered their "last, best and final offer," but the union continues to resist, and a federal mediator has recessed talks.
Wal-Mart is well known throughout the world as a decidedly nonunion company and none of its American stores have experienced successful organized worker attempts. But just this month a majority within the Tire and Lube Express section of a Wal-Mart store in Loveland, in northern Colorado, signed union cards and called for a vote to determine entrance into Local 7.
Whether that election will be allowed will be determined by the National Labor Relations Board in Denver.
"The workers believe this is Wal-Mart's horrible policies towards their workers come home to roost," Minshall said.
But Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the company would prefer the union vote be extended to all store employees -- which would likely make union efforts far more difficult.
"We certainly don't believe that a small handful of associates should be the only associates that have a say in such an important matter," Gallagher said.
This news of the Loveland employees' efforts comes on the heels of other efforts to unionize Wal-Mart -- at least in China . The company announced last month that it would allow that country's state-run labor union to organize in its stores if employees chose to join.
"We follow the laws of any country where we operate...when it comes to labor practices," said Beth Keck, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
It remains unclear whether a sudden rash of union-woes for Wal-Mart will sway the grocery talks. But to Minshall, any crack in Wal-Mart's anti-union stance helps. "Wal-Mart has recognized reality in China," he said. "They're going to have to recognize reality in this country as well."
-- Dan Wilcock