By ED FINKELSTEIN
After 277 days of boycotting Schnucks Markets, the 102 members of Teamsters Local 688 still working in the Schnucks Bridgeton warehouse ratified a new five-year contract March 20 that guarantees their job security for the life of the agreement, Local 688 Chief Executive Officer Mike Goebel told the Labor Tribune.
Acceptance of the new agreement immediately ends the nine-month boycott.
The new agreement, accepted by an 80 percent margin:
- Guarantees the jobs of the 102 workers, by name, working at the Bridgeton warehouse which has remained open during this entire fiasco.
- Provides a “very nice financial settlement” — $1,000 for every year of service — for the 34 Teamsters who were fired but did not take Schnucks’ original severance package buyout and were part of an arbitration. When the firings began last April, of the 200 fired, 166 workers accepted a buyout offer that the union urged them not to do. Those 166 workers will see no additional benefit from the new agreement.
- Increases in both the company-paid health care and company-paid retirees’ health care contributions. The union’s health care plan remains.
- A new dollar-for-dollar 401(k) match by the company up to four percent which is in addition to the members’ Teamsters pension. For those members who continued to work in the Bridgeton warehouse, pension payments will be retroactive to Dec. 2016 when Schucks stopped making pension payments.
- Schnucks will make a lump sum payment of millions of dollars into the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund to cover the withdrawal liability over the lost members at the new warehouse.
- The company is also offering a comprehensive buyout package for up to 50 of the Bridgeton warehouse workers who might want to take retirement now.
Thus ends a massive boycott of one of the community’s leading food chains that began June 17, 2016.
The boycott was preceded by an informational handbilling campaign that began on April 9, 2016 when the company fired some 200 veteran Teamster warehousemen and 30 management employees and transferred their jobs to a new scab warehouse built in Kinloch that hired all new workers through a non-union distribution company.
But just weeks ago, Schnucks fired the firm — XPO Logistics — who then turned around and sued Schnucks. XPO will continue to run the Kinloch warehouse until April 20 but with a skeleton crew. Most of the scabs where fired when the lawsuit was announced.
With consistent shortages on shelves, Schnucks accused XPO of failing to operate the warehouse effectively. The scab workers, being paid just over minimum wage, apparently could not keep up. XPO fired back that Schnucks breached its contract with them.
The boycott was a double-edged sword:
- Schnucks hires thousands of union workers – members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 and Meat, Deli & Seafood Workers Local 88 – and the boycott undoubtedly impacted some of them.
As this was a real concern for Local 688, they postponed a direct boycott for two months and instead conducted informational picketing hoping to settle the issue without having to boycott. However, in the end Schnucks refused to negotiate and Local 688 had little choice but to protect their members and launch the boycott.
Realizing the boycott potential, UFCW 655 President David Cook attempted to mediate the dispute before the boycott began, but Schnucks ignored his efforts.
- The boycott was very impactful, causing the company to lose many millions of dollars from tens of thousands of shoppers who stayed away. Whether Schnucks will gain back their former customers is an open question.
While Schnucks won’t reveal the cost, it was obvious that Dierbergs, Shop ’n Save and Straubs picked up considerable new business.
Local unions made special efforts to support the boycott. A few examples:
- Fire Fighters Local 2665 (county) and Local 73 (city) members working from 118 fire houses moved their estimated annual food shopping of about $6.5 million from Schnucks to Dierberg’s, Shop ’n Save or other neighborhood markets.
- Heat & Frost Insulators Local 1 which annually buys $20,000 to $30,000 in Schnuck gift cards to give to volunteer picketers, retirees and members at various functions throughout the year bought Dierberg’s gift cards instead.
- Bricklayers and Allied Workers Administrative District Council which usually buys about $7,500 in food, drinks and donuts for its annual Labor Day celebration, and gift certificates at Christmas time for members and retirees, purchased from Dierberg’s last year.
Goebel said the union will continue efforts to organize the Kinloch warehouse once a new operator is selected.
Teamsters say ‘Thank You’
“We thank the entire Labor Movement for their incredible support and urge them to return to shopping at Schnucks,” said Teamsters Local 688 Chief Executive Officer Mike Goebel.
“The support we received on our picket lines was overwhelming and sincere. We owe a debt of gratitude to our members who consistently walked pickets, to brothers and sisters of other unions who joined us on our lines, and the public for supporting us.”