Buzz

LABOR

As the contract extension for 17,000 Puget Sound grocery workers at Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons nears its Friday expiration date, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has kicked its public relations campaign into high gear. Last Thursday at targeted stores, workers began approaching customers and knocking on doors in surrounding neighborhoods asking for a pledge to boycott in the event of a strike or lockout. Meanwhile, the grocery chains have posted notices in their stores looking for replacement workers. At issue is the companies' move to aggressively cut costs in both wages and health benefits. For example, the top wage for grocery clerks, which currently stands at the far-from-princely rate of $16.85 an hour, would be reduced to $14.20 an hour for new hires. All employees would pay new health insurance premiums of approximately $13 to $77 a month per individual, and as much as 30 percent of medical expenses.

"This is just a different kind of bargaining than ever before," union spokesperson Jill Cashen says of the companies' maneuverings. Similar proposals by the grocery chains in Southern California led to a four-and-a-half-month strike this winter. Melinda Merrill, a spokesperson for the chains, says that competition from nonunion employers is a big reason—"and not just the Wal-Mart pariah," which she concedes has negligible food operations here as yet. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, beloved by trendy and virtuous food shoppers, offer more serious nonunion competition locally. NINA SHAPIRO

MILITARY

The June 5 death of Ronald Reagan overshadowed the same-day birth of the Jimmy Carter. The new Seawolf-class submarine, USS Jimmy Carter, will be home-ported at Bangor on Hood Canal and sport the most advanced underwater technological capabilities—spy gear—extant. A 453-foot nuclear sub, as reportedly requested by ex–president/submariner Carter, the boat is not expected to carry nuclear tactical weapons. The sub replaces America's aging grand dame of surveillance, the mysterious, 298-foot pitch-black USS Parche (see: "Puget Sub," Oct. 11, 2001). The Parche once tapped into Russian communications cables at the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk, and its tech gear is so valuable the Bangor boat has been rigged for self- destruction if captured. The Carter portends even more dazzling spy and attack missions. Due at Bangor in the fall, it is reportedly undergoing sea trials to test launch Predator unmanned aircraft and a tiny armada of shipboard mini subs that SEALs forces will use for underwater assaults. It is also said to be experimenting with robot subs small enough to slip into a city's sewer systems. RICK ANDERSON.

SAFETY

Just hours before the official start of summer on Sunday, a 36-year-old man drowned in Five Mile Lake in Auburn. Because of severe budget cuts, the beach—the last that King County supervises—had no lifeguards on duty, and the man was reportedly swimming alone despite signs warning people to swim at their own risk. "It was an 85-degree day, there were lots and lots of people at that park, and yet a man was able to drown without anyone seeing him," said sheriff's office spokesperson John Urquhart. Last year in King County, 22 people drowned, according to the medical examiner's office. With one drowning already in the books, and the forecast of hot sunny weather, King County officials emphasized that summer swimmers are safer at parks where they can still afford lifeguards. KIMBERLY PETERSON

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