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DETROIT -- Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Local 876 that are employed by Farmer Jack, based here, rejected a proposed amended contract, in a move that local observers said will likely jeopardize the ongoing fragile talks to sell the grocery chain.
Montvale, N.J.-based Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which owns Farmer Jack, revealed plans last May to sell the 71 metro Detroit Farmer Jacks; the chain closed 15 stores over the summer under the Food Basics and Farmer Jack banners.
Although union voter turnout was very low, Farmer Jack workers rejected a 10 percent wage cut and other concessions to keep their jobs, according to officials at Madison Heights, Mich.-based UFCW 876, which had endorsed the proposed deal. If it had been approved, the modified contract would have gone into effect only if a buyer decided to go forward with the purchase of Farmer Jack stores.
After tallying the votes, the labor union, which represents 8,500 Farmer Jack employees, shared its disappointment via a statement on its Web site. "This scenario is cause for great concern," the union said. "It is unfortunate when a small percentage of members make a decision, which will impact the livelihoods of thousands. Local 876’s officers and the members from the Farmer Jack Bargaining Committee still believe this agreement represents the best opportunity to secure the continued employment of between 5,000 and 6,000 Farmer Jack members with a new employer under a contract which maintains members' current employer-paid health insurance, continues members' employer-paid pension contributions, preserves retiree health insurance for eligible members, retains paid personal days, continues members' pre-paid legal services, provides for an improved vacation schedule, and protects members' seniority.
Victoria Collins, union president, also rebuked members for rejecting the revised contract proposal in a recorded message on the union's Farmer Jack hotline. "With the rejection of this agreement, we fully expect A&P to continue to seek other avenues to dispose of Farmer Jack," she said, "several of which could cost members their jobs or benefits. Local 876's officers and the members from the Farmer Jack bargaining committee still believe this agreement represents the best opportunity to secure the continued employment of between 5,000 and 6,000 Farmer Jack members with a new employer."
Although potential buyers have not been officially named, speculation has centered on Grand Rapids-based Spartan Stores, mentioned by analysts as a possible suitor.