New talks under way. This is the 1% mentality at work: Everything for them, crumbs for us – Cook
By ED FINKELSTEIN
After proposing to gut its contract with United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 – a proposal rejected and a strike authorized last week by an 89 percent margin – if there was ever a clear cut example of Schnucks CEO Todd Schnuck showing total disrespect for his own employees, it was his calling the voting meeting a “PR stunt to get attention.”
Ignoring the fact that union members have a legal right, and an obligation, to vote on a company offer, Schnuck disparaged his own employees with that comment in the local media after members soundly exercised their democratic rights to vote on a proposal the union and its rank-and-file negotiating committee unanimously urged their members to vote “no.”
In making dynamic, impassioned comments on the proposal that brought wild applause more than a dozen times from the 2,184 members present, Local 655 President David Cook said: “This contract is not acceptable today, not acceptable tomorrow, not acceptable ever!”
The membership agreed: 1,934 “no” votes to 250 “yes” votes. The meeting was held at the St. Charles Family Arena on Sept 26.
“This contract represents what’s wrong in America today: the 1% mentality,” Cook said. “A break for the employer and for us – we should act as though we’re lucky to get the crumbs they leave on the ground! Not on my watch,” he proclaimed to thunderous applause.
NO IMMEDIATE STRIKE
However, there is no immediate strike date set at Schnucks.
The two sides went back into negotiations after the vote and further talks were scheduled for last week. No details were available. The current extension agreement requires the union to give five days notice of a strike deadline.
The reason for the incredible rejection of the proposal was clear: the Schnucks agreement contained 35 negative proposals that would have hurt the union’s current and future members, only seven positive changes and 31 neutral changes that basically were clearing up contract language.
Noting that “There was something in this contract for everyone – in the negative column,” Cook also pointed out there was absolutely no consideration by Schnucks of the needs of its pharmacy techs despite the fact that they are understaffed and severely overworked.
Secretary-Treasurer David Politte provided an overview summary of the disastrous contract proposed by Schnucks. It included:
- Minimal pay increases of 10 cents an hour the second and third years would keep wage rates below the area standards.“It’s an insult that they want to start you at $1 an hour lower than the company everyone says is the worst employer in America (Walmart),” Cook pointed out.
- While managers and full-time employees would get a $600 bonus and part-timers $300, there would be no raise the first year, and one percent in years two and three – less than the cost-of-living.
- A lower pay scale for employees hired after ratification.
- Reducing the top rate of pay for new full-time workers to $14 an hour from the current $15.55.
- Increasing by a full year the time it takes to reach top pay scale.
- Eliminating Sunday premium pay.
- Eliminating holiday premium pay for all new hires.
- Eliminating paper paychecks to be replaced by Pay Cards. However, employees couldn’t cash the cards in the store. They would have to go to a bank or credit union and pay whatever the charge.
- Killing 133 full-time jobs: The proposal would reduce the requirement for 40-hour full-time jobs from 50 percent of hours worked to 45 percent. Local 655 estimates this will kill 133 full-time jobs.
- Eliminate the guarantee of 25-hour part-time jobs – some 844 members would lose their jobs.
- Reduce the number of department managers thus eliminating premium pay jobs.
HEALTH & WELFARE REDUCTIONS
Cook noted that Schnuck’s proposal would see employees’ health care costs go up twice before they saw a single raise. Those costs would include:
- Killing health care for most, if not all, part-time members as a result of the combination of Schnucks health care changes and elimination of 25-hour part-time schedules.
- Offering to raise health care hourly payments by only 10 cents an hour each year, which would result in:
- Eliminating health care for part-time employees.
- Raising co-insurance payments by 15 percent.
- Increasing deductibles for medical and prescriptions.
- Increasing out-of-pocket maximums.
- Eliminating vision, dental, life and disability insurance on one of the three health plans.
- Lower all health care benefits while increasing weekly cost sharing for all employees.
- Eliminating the “40 and out” retirement benefit.
- Creating a lower level of retirement benefits for new hires — less than $10 a year credit. (Currently it’s less than $20 a year credit.) “After 40 years, you’d have far less than $400 a month. Given what’s happening to Social Security, could you live on less than $400 a month?” Cook asked to a groan from the audience.
- Seniority – Eliminate scheduling by seniority on Sundays and holidays by allowing Schnucks to schedule who they want, when they want.
- Vacation 1 – Eliminating three weeks of vacation for part-time employees based on their years of service. No matter how long they served the company, they would only be eligible for two weeks vacation. Currently it grows to five weeks for members with 20 years employment.
- Vacation 2 – Extending from three to four weeks the time an employee could not be on vacation.
“You need to send a message to your employer that you’re tired of this,” Cook said. “Three and six years ago your employer got a lucrative contact (because the union gave up so much). They made money off your backs. Schnucks’ labor force deserves a raise, and that day is today.”
Cook closed the discussion part of the meeting before the vote by pointing out that Schnucks last year was a $2.7 billion company, the 168th largest private company in America, “A position that has been improving over the years: 2009 the 191st largest, 2010 the 174th largest.
“They never told us they couldn’t afford our proposal. Our members deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices (over the past 12 years) with a fair contract.”
The union’s contract expired May 8. It has been extended on a day-to-day basis while negotiations were under way aided by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation service.
While negotiations are only going on with Schnucks, the other two major union food chains — Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save — will be offered the same contract. Straubs Markets is not part of the current negotiations.
Should the union be forced to strike Schnucks, it’s expected that Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save will lock out their employees in a show of support for Schnucks.