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Teamsters Local 118 members overwhelmingly voted on Monday to reject a Wegmans Food Markets contract offer that the union claims would eliminate the pensions of more than 900 employees in Wegmans’ hometown of Rochester, N.Y., and endanger health care for the workers’ spouses. Local 118 said it would request the participation of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to settle the outstanding contract.
“Our members flatly said no to an offer that would immediately cut their compensation package, eradicate our pension and leave our spouses’ health care in jeopardy,” said Kevin McIntosh, Teamsters Local 118 business agent. In rejecting the contract, Teamsters Local 118 also authorized strike action.
“It is extremely frustrating that the Teamsters’ desire to keep Wegmans from leaving its troubled pension fund put our employees in the position it did,” CEO Danny Wegman said in response to the union’s rejection of the company’s “last, best and final” offer. “We made an offer to provide a more secure future for our people, and the union responded with misinformation and pressure on its own members – our employees – to reject that offer. We are very concerned.”
According to Wegmans, its offer included an immediate $1,000 lump-sum payment for full-time employees ($500 for part-time); an 18 percent pay increase over the life of the six-year contract; a move to Wegmans fully funded retirement plan, and a package of retirement assistance options valued at more than $10 million. The grocer would also pay the financially troubled New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund millions of dollars in withdrawal liability to help save the benefits already due its employees from the fund.
McIntosh said that instead of a pay raise, Wegmans would actually eliminate the $4.82 that members have voluntarily diverted from wages to their pension fund. The company also refused to agree to language that would protect spouses under the contract, he added.
In the event of a strike, Wegmans said it would roll out a comprehensive plan to ensure that stores remain open without interruption. “We welcome all of the employees in this bargaining unit to come to work every day, even during a labor dispute,” noted VP of Distribution Mike Cullen, “but we are also prepared to do whatever it takes, in the event of a strike, to offer the same incredible service our customers have come to expect from Wegmans and its employees.”
Additionally, Wegmans faces unfair labor practice charges for violations of federal labor law after workers protested what they characterized as the company’s proposal to eliminate their pension benefits. The charges will be investigated by Region 3 of the National Labor Relations Board in Buffalo, N.Y.
For its part, the company has alleged that employees in the bargaining unit have raised serious concerns about the environment surrounding the voting process, the accuracy of the results and the status of Local 118, which was placed in trusteeship in April 2012 after its president was removed for attempted embezzlement and multiple charges were filed against other union officials.
And, in a sign of further deteriorating relations between the two parties, Wegmans has complained about Teamsters' tactics to embarrass the grocer, such as handbilling shoppers at many Rochester and Buffalo stores.
Teamsters Local 118, which represents more than 900 Wegmans warehouse workers, drivers and other skilled trades, has been in negotiations with the supermarket operator since March.