Some Best Market workers took their concerns about their future wages and benefits under the chain’s new ownership to the public Tuesday.
A handful of workers stood outside the Huntington Station supermarket — along with workers from other Best Market stores — asking customers to sign a petition to support employees’ efforts to protect their jobs under the grocery chain’s new owner, discount grocer Lidl.
The U.S. arm of Germany-based Lidl finalized its purchase of 27 stores, including all 24 on Long Island, for an undisclosed price in January. The chain had been owned by Bethpage-based Best Market.
Best Market employs about 2,500 people, and Lidl will offer employment with the same or better pay and benefits to all of those employed at the time of sale in January, said Will Harwood, Lidl spokesman. “We are a growing business, and we are making good on our commitments to our team members,” said Harwood.
Lidl plans to begin the process of converting Best Market stores to the Lidl name, starting by closing two stores — in Huntington Station, at 711 E. Jericho Tpke., and at 725 Sunrise Hwy. in West Babylon — during the next four to six weeks for remodeling, Harwood said. The stores will reopen by early next year, he said.
Some Huntington Station workers say that while Lidl has told them their hourly wages will not decrease under the new ownership, their work hours will be cut, including when they are temporarily working at other stores while their home store is being renovated.
Lidl, however, said that the company will honor full-time workers’ contracts that guarantee at least 35 hours of weekly work. In addition, part-time workers who are guaranteed at least one four-hour shift a week will be given more hours.
Harwood said roughly half the Best Market workers were full time and half part time.
Dix Hills resident Meta Moore, 40, is a deli clerk and assistant manager in training who has worked at the Huntington Station store for about a year. She normally works more than 40 hours a week, but has been told by Lidl that her weekly hours will be cut to 35 and that her job title will change to store associate, which means she would be performing a variety of duties including working as a cashier, as bakery staff and cleaning, she said.
“You just gave me the push that I need to go find other employment,” said Moore, who said that she was told she will be transferred to the West Babylon store on Montauk Highway while the Huntington Station store is remodeled.
However, Robin Bruno, 62, a front-end manager of cashiers at the Huntington Station store, said that Lidl has delivered what it has promised to her and other employees she has spoken to.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union was involved in organizing Tuesday’s petition drive, but the Best Market workers are not unionized. The union says it got involved because a decrease in pay, benefits or hours for Best Market workers could affect pay for unionized workers at competing grocery stores in the area.
Lidl has been holding individual meetings with employees to explain the transition process, their new roles, work hours and other issues related to the change in ownership, Harwood said.
One reason for Best Market employees’ concerns is that Lidl operates stores that are typically smaller than traditional supermarkets and employ fewer people, which is how it is able to offer customers steep discounts.
There are about 90 employees at the Best Market store in Huntington Station and 75 at the West Babylon store on Sunrise Highway, Harwood said.