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Workers from 40 of Supervalu’s Philadelphia-based Acme Markets subsidiary overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal that the company had described as its “last, best and final” offer.
More than 3,000 union members voted by a margin of 95 percent to reject Acme’s proposed four-year deal that calls for annual lump-sum pay increases of 35 cents, 25 cents and 15 cents per hour; the introduction of medical co-pays that would make it harder for new hires to qualify for coverage; and increased contributions from Acme to the pension fund. Even with the changes, Acme maintains it would still be paying 250 percent higher than the average competitor in the market for health benefits.
Acme’s proposal was presented two weeks ago after 18 months of unsuccessful talks; the chain said it would decide July 10 what steps it will take next, but added it has no intention of locking out workers. In the meantime, Acme Seth Horwitz told Progressive Grocer the chain was disappointed “that Local 1776 decided to reject a very fair and reasonable contract proposal. After 18 months of fruitless negotiations, Acme put forward a final offer that provides our associates with the best overall wage and benefit package for retail grocery employees in this market; access to quality, affordable health care; and more secure pensions.We believe the union should ratify this fair final offer so we can secure the future of our associates and the future of Acme Markets.”
But union officials believe otherwise. “If implemented, [the proposal] would result in severe and devastating cuts to our members’ health care benefits,” said Wendell W. Young, IV, UFCW 1776 president. “It would decimate their pension fund. It would provide virtually no wage increase for five years; it would eliminate or diminish language that protects seniority, hours and job security; and would leave workers solely responsible for all shortfalls in the pension fund.”
The union further derided Acme’s stance as being exploitative of recession anxieties. “The company is trying to take advantage of the worst economic environment in our time to wring concessions from its workers. Its proposal would lower the standard of living for workers who have labored for Acme for many years. The company should recognize that the best interests of its customers, its employees and Acme are served if it returns to the bargaining table and reaches a fair contract for all parties.”
Young further noted that his members “resented Acme’s refusal to continue bargaining and its insistence on a contract that would place all of the costs on them. In store after store, our members said that they couldn’t understand why the company walked away from the bargaining table and why it insisted that they accept a contract that would put their job security and benefits at risk.”
Noting that “Acme is profitable,” Young went on to describe the chain’s “experienced workforce that should be an asset in this highly competitive business. Yet, all we’ve heard from Acme is that the workers are to blame because they burden the company with high labor costs. More creative managers would find ways to take advantage of this valuable asset.”
Young said members were particularly critical of Acme’s call for the workers to accept the contract by July 10 or the company would impose it unilaterally. “The vote reflects that fact that the members trusted their own judgment,” he said, adding that Local 1776’s members “knew that Acme was wrong to claim that the union was unwilling to bargain.”
After working under the terms of an extended contract, Young said UFCW 1776 is willing to continue to do so while it bargains with Acme. “We never have threatened a strike or job action of any kind -- not once -- and we have offered compromises on the issues that the company identifies as most important to it. Acme pulled the trigger here. Not the union. The company walked away from the table, when this issue should and can be resolved by bargaining. Instead, Acme has attempted to intimidate our members, many of whom have devoted a lifetime of service to Acme. The company’s tactics, including captive meetings and video blitzes, seriously undermined Acme’s credibility.”
Local 1776’s Acme members work in stores in Philadelphia, and Chester, Montgomery and parts of Bucks County.