After Months of Unrest, Albertsons Employees Vote to Stay Union

By Beacon Staff

Employees at a Kalispell Albertsons grocery store are settling back into work following a period of unrest that culminated in a Feb. 9 vote in favor of retaining their labor union membership.

Terrie Trettenbach, a business agent with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 4, said employees voted 21-13 to remain a union store. She said an agent from the National Labor Relations Board came to Kalispell to conduct the secret-ballot vote, which resulted from a petition.

Trettenbach, who traveled from Butte to Kalispell on behalf of the union, called the vote a “big win.” Given the margin of victory, she doesn’t expect an appeal.

“This has been building and building for a long time,” Trettenbach said. “It’s been a really big relief that this is finally over. I feel relieved and extremely happy.”

The movement to disband the union started last fall, Trettenbach said, and led to recent incidents of picketing outside of the store. Though it is rare for labor unrest to lead to a single grocery store in Montana voting on its union membership, it does occur on occasion, according to UFCW Local 4 president Nicolai Cocergine.

Of the incidents he has seen in his 15 years, Cocergine said only once has a store voted to break away from the union. About a decade ago, employees at two Missoula Safeway stores – under one contract – voted out of the union. Cocergine said the stores are still non-union.

The UCFW Local 4 has about 1,600 members in Montana, Cocergine said, and Local 8 has another 400 more. Local 4 predominantly represents workers from grocery stores, including Safeway and Albertsons, as well as butcher shops and other businesses.

Typically, it’s young people who favor getting out of the union, Cocergine said, as they are less concerned with health insurance and pensions than older employees. In the case of Albertsons in Kalispell, an older management employee started the non-union movement, though Corrine Turner, an all-purpose clerk, said it was generally younger workers who joined the effort.

Turner, who supported staying union, said in the nearly 25 years she has worked at the Kalispell Albertsons only once has this type of situation arisen, and “it didn’t get very far.” A message left for the leader of the opposition was not immediately returned.

Trettenbach said she hopes the store’s employees can move forward in a cohesive manner, though she acknowledges that after months of unrest “there will undoubtedly still be some tension.”

“There might be some fallout, some hurt feelings, but I hope not,” she said. “It will be a little stressful but I really hope and have every expectation of everybody getting back to work and working together.”