Despite some contentious moments, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and approximately 4,000 clerks and meatcutters who are members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 (Washington,DCarea) and UFCW Local 27 (Baltimorearea) have agreed to a new two year labor contract. The prior contract was set to expire on July 7.
The new pact follows a pattern similar to the labor agreements that Baltimore-Washington’s leading chains, Giant/Landover and Safeway, signed in April in that the Shoppers’ agreement is significantly shorter than the previous four year contract and that maintenance of health benefits was again included in the new contract.
While the Shoppers’ contract on the whole costs out less than either the Giant or the Safeway agreement (as has always been the case), Shoppers will be contributing more to the employees’ pension fund to avoid further shortfalls.
For those employees who were with the company before July 2008, the Bowie, MD based unit of Supervalu will be paying 9 cents more the first year and 15 cents more the second year. For those associates who began employment with the company after July 2008, Shoppers’ contribution will be 23 cents the first year and 24 cents in year two.
As far as wage increases are concerned, those Shoppers associates who have accrued between 500-2,080 hours during the past year will be eligible for a flat 25 cents an hour bonus in year one and then all clerks and meatcutters will gain a 25 cents per hour increase in year two.
Bargaining began about two months ago and the UFCW’s strategy was clear from the outset.
“We will not let Shoppers (Supervalu) dump its financial problems on our members’ backs,” said McNutt. “Workers are Shoppers’ greatest asset and the solution to the company’s problems, which lie exclusively in the executive suites. We are going to emphatically make the case that investing in Shoppers’ workers is the best and only way for the company to start growing and profiting again.”
McNutt was also concerned about Supervalu’s ownership of non-union Save-A-Lot and the impact it could have on the bargaining. “Cannibalizing yourself has never ranked as a sound business strategy,” McNutt asserted, “and Save-A-Lots are losing money. Rather than eat itself alive, Supervalu needs to invest in its union workers and banners so it can start beating the competition.”
As negotiations became more heated, Local 400 accused Shoppers of attempting to intimidate some of the company’s associates into accepting a contract that McNutt claimed would drive down their living standards and their health and retirement security.
Subsequently, members of Local 400 who work at Shoppers filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Included among the tactics that Local 400 alleged Shoppers/Supervalu had used to intimidate associates were stopping workers from talking with customers, harassing them off the clock, unilaterally altering their vacation bonuses, imposing onerous hours on a union activist, interfering with another activist’s right to wear a UFCW Local 400 button, and denying workers their free speech rights through social media.
In a June 27 letter to the associates, Shoppers’ president Tim Lowe (who is also wearing his new hat as senior VP-merchandising based at corporate headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN) noted that Supervalu “strongly disagrees with these allegations (charged in the unfair labor practice complaint). We respect the rights of our associates who are union members, and we work very hard to ensure that we do not impact anyone’s ability to speak their mind about our business or negotiations. All we ask is that these things be done professionally and in accordance with long-standing policies that allow us to run our business. Shoppers will defend and standby our position should the union choose to pursue them further. It’s our hope, however, that all sides will choose to focus their efforts on reaching a fair agreement at the table.”
And in the end, as so often happens, both sides resolved their differences and agreed to a new deal that will expire in July 2014.