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    Contract Deadline Date Dawns for Acme Markets Pa., Union Workers

    While unionized workers at 40 of Supervalu’s Acme Markets subsidiary in the five-county Philadelphia area saw their extended contract expire at 12:01 a.m. this morning, no plans for a strike or a lockout had been announced at presstime, although what happens next remains to be seen.

    While unionized workers at 40 of Supervalu’s Acme Markets subsidiary in the five-county Philadelphia area saw their extended contract expire at 12:01 a.m. this morning, no plans for a strike or a lockout had been announced at presstime, although what happens next remains to be seen.

    Talks were continuing all week between Acme Markets’ management, leaders from Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and federal mediators, key sticking points of which include wages, health care, pensions and store-level work-rule changes.

    Local 1776, which represents clerks, cashiers and other front-end employees in Pennsylvania only, has threatened to stage a walkout at 41 Acme Stores in the Philadelphia area today, while Acme earlier had also threatened a lockout.

    As previously reported, workers from 40 of the suburban Philadelphia-based Acme Markets overwhelmingly rejected the chain’s proposed four-year deal -- presented roughly four weeks ago after 18 months of unsuccessful talks -- that the grocer has repeatedly described as its “last, best and final offer.”

    Acme spokesman Seth Horwitz told Progressive Grocer earlier this month that the chain “…put forth a final offer that’s fair and reasonable, that would provide our associates with the best overall wage and benefit package for retail grocery employees in this market.”

    UFCW Local 1776 president Wendell Young IV said the 3,700 union members affected by the contract dispute have done and will continue to do “everything to avoid” a strike, despite their belief that Acme’s management is exploiting recession anxieties. “The company is trying to take advantage of the worst economic environment in our time to wring concessions from its workers,” said Young, adding that the proposal would lower the standard of living for longtime employees.

    Meanwhile, a sister Hammonton, N.J.-based UCFW affiliate representing thousands of Acme employees in the southern New Jersey region has temporarily suspended contract negotiations with the supermarket chain to give Acme and UFCW Local 1776 a chance to work out separate contract negotiations that have failed. Despite Local 152’s decision to halt its own contract talks with Acme, the union and the supermarket chain are not at an impasse and members will not be walking out Friday, even if Local 1776 members decide to do so.

    Local 152’s contract expired in May and involves 1,880 meat cutters, produce workers and other back-end Acme employees at about 100 stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey, including Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties.

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