Schnucks Grocery Workers Reject Contract Offer

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By Christopher Brown

Sept. 27 — Grocery store workers at Schnuck Markets Inc. in St. Louis voted 1,934 to 250 to reject a contract offer, but negotiations will resume shortly in hopes of avoiding a strike.

The employees, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, followed the recommendation of the union’s negotiating team in rejecting the three-year deal Sept. 26 and authorizing a strike.

Statements released after the vote by the union and the company, however, indicate that negotiations will continue and that a strike doesn’t appear imminent.

In a letter to workers before the vote, Schnucks said it was offering increased starting wages, a shorter time period for workers to progress through the first four wage brackets, a cash bonus and increased wages at the upper end of the pay scale.

But union officials said the proposed contract would lead to the loss of 133 full-time jobs, increase health-care costs, eliminate a guaranteed minimum 25-hour schedule for part-time employees, eliminate the holiday wage premium for new hires and reduce vacation time for part-time employees hired after 2009.

The proposal also featured wage increases that were less than increases in the cost of living, union officials said.

Union Cites Employee Sacrifices

David Cook, president of Local 655, issued a statement saying the union hopes this “overwhelming rejection” will send a clear message that the substantial sacrifices made by workers over the past three contracts have allowed the company to be “extremely profitable.”

Schnucks said in a statement: “We’ll be meeting with 655 leadership for what we expect to be productive and meaningful discussions, just as we have had with numerous union leaders over the years. Our goal remains the same—to deliver a solution that works for our teammates. It is important that we do this while keeping our business positioned to compete against the more than 580+ non-union supermarkets and stores that sell food throughout our metro area.”

The parties have tentatively agreed to resume negotiations Sept. 29, said Collin Reischman, a Local 655 spokesman.

Local 655 represents about 4,500 Schnucks employees, in addition to about 4,500 workers employed by two other local supermarket chains, Dierbergs Markets and Shop ’n Save. The three chains have entered into an agreement under which the contract between Local 655 and Schnucks will set the economic terms of the other two agreements, Reischman said.

Economic Provisions Anger Workers

The overwhelming rejection of the offer was based on members’ anger over the economic provisions, Reischman told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 27.

“It’s hard to pick one thing that made them angriest,” Reischman said. “The contract really goes after every group of workers, no matter where you work in the store or what you do. There’s something in there for everyone to get pretty mad about.”

Schnucks workers have been forced to make painful sacrifices over the past several contracts and are unwilling to continue doing so in a climate in which the company is clearly thriving, he said.

“Here we have a proposal that cuts health benefits and reduces full-time jobs, and doesn’t give us anything meaningful in terms of wage increases, all while the company has been incredibly competitive,” he said. “It’s time for the company to come forward with a fair deal.”

The current contract expired in May but has been extended on a day-to-day basis as talks continue, Reischman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Brown in St. Louis at ChrisBrown@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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