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Does a mail-in vote for a new grocery contract make ratification more likely?

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Word broke last week that King Soopers and Safeway workers affiliated with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 would soon begin voting on the companies' last, best and final contract offer. But customers and employees alike won't know if a strike will disrupt holiday-season shopping for quite a while.

Union spokeswoman Laura Chapin notes that the UFCW's international requested that the vote be conducted by mail, with ballots due back by December 14. It's a time-consuming method that creates less urgency than designated voting days -- but could it also be a signal that the international would prefer ratification over rejection? After all, the last grocery-worker contract, finalized in 2005, passed after the international called for the same kind of mail-in vote.

Chapin declines to speculate about the reasons for the mail-in methodology and says the local isn't making its preferences known publicly. "It's an internal communications matter," she says. "But people have been communicated with constantly, and they pretty much know what the issues are at this point. Hopefully, all this communicating hasn't been for naught."

Sending out so many ballots in a short amount of time has been a challenge. "It was a massive operation Friday into Saturday getting everything out the door," she says. "Especially considering that we're mailing ballots to 15,000 people."

The union will be doing follow-up with its members to make sure they received a ballot, with likely tacks including robo-calls, posts on union boards and face-to-face meetings with union representatives.

As for how long it will take after the 14th to count up all those ballots, Chapin isn't sure -- nor does she know if a strike between mid-December and Christmas is a possibility if the rank and file turns thumbs-down on the contract. In her words, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Or if they come to it.

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