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Latest News - March 2010

March 25, 2010
Shaw’s Strikers Vow National Fight Over Replacement Workers
Author: Bill Kirk
Source: The Eagle Tribune

METHUEN — A plan by Shaw's to hire replacement workers for striking employees at the company's Danton Drive distribution plant has prompted a union response: They are taking their job action national.


"They took this to a new level by hiring replacements," said Peter Drouen, a spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791, which represents 300 employees at the cold-storage facility. "We are going to escalate over the next days and weeks. We will get help from union members in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the UFCW International."


He said the union, which is already conducting informational pickets at 16 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, will be setting up more picket lines at some of the 2,000 stores owned by the Shaw's parent company, Supervalu.


In addition to Shaw's and Star Markets, Supervalu, a Midwest-based chain, owns grocery stores under the brands of Acme, Albertson's, Bristol Farms, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Save-A-Lot and Shop'N'Save, among others.


"Supervalu is pulling the strings," he said, referring to negotiations that have stalled over wages and health care benefits.


The union plans on holding a press conference tomorrow to roll out its plans for additional picketing across the country.


"Instead of getting down to business and sitting at the bargaining table, they are trying to scare these workers into going back to work by threatening their jobs by hiring replacements," Drouen said.
"They are trying to ram an inferior contract down our throats by using scare tactics."


Employees at the plant, who load and unload trucks with fresh produce bound for the 176 Shaw's and Star Market stores in New England, voted 228-8 on March 7 to reject a company contract offer and go on strike.


They have picketed the Danton Drive plant every day and night since then, and expanded picketing to non-union stores in Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.


But company officials say the union's rejection of a fair contract offer has forced the company to take the step of hiring permanent replacement workers.


"The union rejected a contract extension earlier this month and they voted down two contract offers that were fair, reasonable and realistic," said Judy Chong, a Shaw's spokeswoman. "As we continued to weather the strike, we have an obligation to protect our business and the livelihoods of our 25,000 other employees."


She said the company notified the union Tuesday of its intent to hire permanent replacement workers, and has begun the process of posting the jobs and screening applicants.


She said that while 300 people worked at the facility, the hiring will be based on business needs.
Further, she said, the replacement workers, by law, will become part of the bargaining unit — represented by the very union that is now on strike.


"Under the law, permanent strike replacement workers become part of the bargaining unit," she said, refusing to elaborate.


Meanwhile, she said, "striking employees can return to work as long as their positions are not filled by replacement workers. They can come back to work under the terms and conditions of the expired contract."


In addition, she said, "a contract offer is still on the table" that increases wages for all Methuen workers, who make an average of $19.06 an hour for straight time, she said.


The offer on the table includes a 4.2 percent increase in wages over four years, annual bonuses and continuing of contrbuionts to workers' 401K plans and the company-paid pension plan.


"The offer on the table would increase Shaw's health care contributions by up to 19 percent," she added. "We hope the union will accept this offer, which will not remain on the table indefinitely."
Derouen said the union is exploring every legal avenue possible to keep the company from hiring replacement workers.


But Chong said that under federal labor law, a company is allowed to hire replacement workers for employees who have gone out on what's known as an "economic strike" over wages and benefits.
"The risk of being replaced is the risk all the striking associates knew about before the strike," she said.

 


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