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MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- The union representing Piggly Wiggly grocery workers here claimed that the incoming new owner of the grocery chain is seeking to eliminate all health-care benefits, vacation time and other leave for part-time workers.
Following nearly two years of contract negotiations with the previous owner, Certifresh Holdings, Inc., John Eiden, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473, said the grocery chain’s new owner -- Paul Butera, who was c.e.o. of Piggly Wiggly parent Fresh Brands for the last year and who announced earlier this week his plans to purchase Fresh Brands from Certified Grocers Midwest for an undisclosed price -- offered a proposal that “is a hypocritical contradiction to public statements made” shortly after announcing the ownership change.
“The new owners are saying publicly all the right things – they claim to want to build new stores, create more jobs and grow The Pig,” said Eiden. “However, in private, they are saying something completely different and showing an incredible level of disrespect for the economic challenges middle income workers face day in and day out.”
Eiden said that Piggly Wiggly management’s contract proposal hits hardest at employees who work fewer than 38 hours per week, and thus places the burden of the cuts on employees who can least afford the dramatic reductions proposed.
In response to the union’s salvos, Gary Suokko, Fresh Brands c.o.o. told Progressive Grocer, “Our company prefer to negotiate in a formal manner, vs. newpspapers and magazines.”
Suokko acknowledged that the grocer “asked for relief in health-care costs for part-time workers,” but otherwise declined to comment on specifics, aside from adding that union’s allegations center exclusively “around benefits for part-time workers rather than full-time” associates.
Suokko said the current contracts vary by “store clusters” and in some cases are expired, but are in the process of being negotiated by the union and the company. He added that he was confident Butera will be able to reach an agreement with the UFCW local in the same way that he did with the teamsters’ union representing Fresh Brands’ warehouse workers, which clinched a three-year deal in June.
Eiden said his union is working to formulate a counterproposal, which will be presented to Butera’s representatives at a meeting this Thursday.
Butera’s purchase is expected to close Oct. 15. The current proposal would affect all employees working less than 38 hours per week at the 11 corporate-owned Piggly Wiggly stores in the state, including locations in Sheboygan, Appleton, Menasha, Oshkosh, Racine and Kenosha. UFCW Local 1473 represents more than 900 full-time and part-time workers at those stores.
Fresh Brands employs 2,800 people, 750 of them in Sheboygan at two Piggly Wiggly stores and two distribution centers.