Will ProgressNow Colorado help nonunion stores more than union employees in a grocery strike?

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Last week, the liberal group ProgressNow Colorado created a searchable map designed to help customers of King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons find other places to shop in the event of a grocery-store strike. Shortly thereafter, a letter to King Soopers employees noted that most of those options were nonunion shops. But ProgressNow executive director Bobby Clark doesn't see this as a contradictory message.

"Our intent here is not to injure the brands of Safeway, King Soopers or Albertsons," Clark says. "Hopefully there won't be a strike, but if there is, we hope it's resolved soon and is fair to the workers. And afterward, of course we want people to go back to union grocery stores."

Yesterday, some of the sources quizzed for a Denver Post piece about ProgressNow's initiative argued that the strategy carried risks, since customers could grow accustomed to shopping elsewhere. Clark scoffs at that conclusion based in part on his own experiences.

"I live two blocks from a Safeway one direction, and two blocks from a King Soopers the other direction," he allows, "and I cannot imagine people making the choice to shop at less convenient locations because they started shopping there during a strike or a lockout. Why would you shop at a Super Target if there's a more convenient King Soopers just down the block?"

Besides, Clark goes on, the grocery chains have the most to lose by giving customers a reason to change their habits: "The management at the grocery stores are the ones who are really playing a risky game. If they think it may be difficult to get business back, then they need to do the right thing now and get a fair deal done. Because if they don't, they're forcing people's hands if there is a strike/lockout."

Clark uses this last term purposefully. "The grocery stores will not allow a situation where the workers at one chain are strike and it's business as usual at the others," he maintains. "They'll lock out the workers at other chains if there's a strike. They've made that clear. And so there will only be two alternatives for people: either you'll have to cross a picket line or you'll have to shop at a nonunion store."

Hence the map, which aims to make supporting workers more convenient. "It's one thing to encourage people to shop elsewhere, but another thing to actually show them where they can do it," he feels.

In Clark's opinion, the grocery stores have used the tough economy to imply that they're struggling -- "but they're actually doing really well, because more people are cooking at home to save money instead of eating out." ProgressNow is trying to undercut cries of corporate poverty in advance of any potential work stoppage, "and we've got a whole coalition of organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who are prepared to stand with grocery workers -- prepared to say, 'These 17,000 grocery workers are our friends and neighbors. We believe in their right to organize and have a fair contract.'"

Such a show of support could "lead to a swifter conclusion if there is a strike," Clark argues. Under those circumstances, "we clearly wouldn't want people to shop there. So the grocery stores have some tough choices to make: either keep losing money or make a deal."

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