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Supermarket workers increase strike warnings

Groceries line a shelf

Groceries line a shelf Credit: Bloomberg

The union representing workers at King Kullen, Stop & Shop and A&P’s Pathmark stores are intensifying their public warnings of a possible strike with radio spots.

Starting Wednesday morning, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 will begin airing 35 spots over the next four days, a union spokesman said. With the current contract set to expire Saturday, the ads on 1010 WINS informs consumers that there is a high likelihood of a strike occurring around the July Fourth weekend, the union said. The butcher’s union has agreed that its members won’t cross picket lines if a strike occurs, said Patrick Purcell, spokesman for UFCW Local 1500

“We’re simply saying that the public needs to know there could be a strike and we strongly encourage them to consider other shopping alternatives,” Purcell said. “We do apologize for any inconvenience and that’s why we are being so aggressive and that they are getting advance warning there is a very good possibility there will be a strike.”

King Kullen seemed to be taken aback by the union’s talk of a potential strike, emphasizing the company’s rising costs and competitive pressures.

"King Kullen is working toward settling a contract but is surprised that local 1500 would take a job action at a time when unemployment in the region is running at the highest level in years,” said Thomas Cullen, Vice President of King Kullen Grocery Co., Inc., in an email statement. “Workers in all industries are facing challenges. Making matters worse is the fact that a company like King Kullen faces double digit cost increases in welfare and pension costs because we’re unionized. Meanwhile, our non-union competitors, including the big box retailers, enjoy an economic advantage.”

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, parent company of Pathmark, declined to comment on details of the negotiations, but said talks were continuing “with the intent of reaching an agreement satisfactory to all,” according to a spokeswoman.

The union, which represents workers on Long Island and in the New York City region, and the supermarket companies have been negotiating since early May, Purcell said. Union members have identified demands for increased health-care costs, reduced pension benefits and wage freezes as critical strike issues, he said.

Under the current contract, union members pay a co-pay fee for doctors visits, tests and prescription medication, but the companies want them to pay more of their health-care costs with deductions from their paychecks, in-network deductibles and increased co-pay fees, Purcell said. The average full-time rate is about $16 an hour with benefits and the average part-time rate is about $10 to $10.50 an hour with benefits, he said.

Despite the tough economy, Purcell argued that these supermarkets have benefitted from consumers eating out less and turning away from higher-priced grocery stores.
“It’s a typical, middle-class American family that has these jobs,” Purcell said. “No one is getting wealthy.”

But Cullen noted in his statement,“Unions like 1500 are going after the wrong employers and potentially eliminating future union jobs."
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