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WEST BERLIN, N.J. - The union representing 1,400 striking workers at 10 Shop Rite supermarkets in southern New Jersey on Tuesday rejected the latest company contract proposal for settling the four-week old strike. Clay Bowman, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1360, said Shop Rite/Wakefern's latest offer was "grossly inadequate" and characterized it as a "huge step in the wrong direction."
"For the last four weeks our Union has been saying that we were available to meet with Shop Rite/Wakefern anytime and anywhere to find a way to settle a fair contract," said Bowman. "Finally, the company agreed to meet yesterday and the result was a proposal they threw on the table that calls for the destruction of our health benefits and pension funds, cuts in wages and lower wage rates for new employees. This latest proposal is grossly inadequate and does nothing to help us reach a settlement. In fact, it is a huge step in the wrong direction and will prolong this strike."
Bowman noted that the Union's willingness to work towards a fair contract settlement is being severely tested by this latest offer. He said the Union's negotiating team had immediately rejected this latest move by Shop Rite/Wakefern.
"We have been willing to meet the company even more than halfway on this contract if it meant getting a fair settlement," said Bowman. "From what we see in this latest proposal, it is obvious that Shop Rite/Wakefern is not interested in any kind of a settlement. In fact, it actually looks instead like they are running away as fast as they can from anything resembling a fair deal."
In response to Shop Rite/Wakefern's latest offer, Bowman said the Union has offered a counterproposal that he said demonstrates the Union's willingness to compromise.
"We have offered as a counterproposal a deal in which we would drop our demand for immediate dependent health coverage until the very last day of the contract and we agreed to accept the wage offer that the company made last week in its so-called final offer," he said. "In addition, we would agree to let the company use $1 million in pension fund reserves to finance a three-year deal, but only if they agree to provide the necessary funding to maintain health benefits and remain in the health and pension funds that have union representation on their respective boards."
Bowman said the Union was even willing to accept the company's proposal on wage rates for new hires that was offered last week, even though that would mean that the new top rate of $10.75 for new workers would be $.50 per hour lower than the deal the Union recently settled with Wakefern's Big V Shop rite stores.
UFCW Local 1360 represents 10,000 workers in the retail, service, health care and government service fields in southern New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.