Unions once again proving contracts are ‘job insurance’ for union members
By ED FINKELSTEIN
The realization that a union contract is a worker’s only real “Job Insurance” was driven home in recent weeks when Shop ‘n Save announced it was selling 20 of its locations to Schnucks Markets and closing its remaining 15 locations in the St. Louis/Southern Illinois region, impacting the lives of 2,500 union members and their families. Most are members United Food & Commercial Workers Locals 655 (some 1,300) and 88 (some 400) in St. Louis and UFCW Local 881 (some 500 in Southern Illinois).
UNION CONTRACTS TO MITIGATE IMPACT
But thanks to strong union contracts, the tragic impact on these workers will be softened considerably because their union was able to negotiate something normally unheard of when a company closes: for impacted Shop ’n Save members, severance pay, a temporary continuation of critical health and welfare and pension contributions to keep benefits and an opportunity to go to work for Schnucks.
Under most circumstances you read about today, companies close and workers are immediately on the street with nothing.
But not so for these union members because of the “job insurance” of having a strong union and a written contract standing behind its members, even in such tragic circumstances, said Local 655 President David Cook.
“It’s times like these that our partners need their union family the most… and we are committed to protecting our partners at Shop ’n Save,” said the presidents of the three locals when the sale announcement was made in April: Local 655’s Cook, Local 88’s Dan Telle and Local 881’s Ron Powell.
UNIQUE SEVERANCE DETAILS
The outlines of intense negotiations for re-hiring and severance conditions recently were announced. And while no one wants to lose their job, at least the blow is being softened considerably by the unions’ strong and decisive actions.
In basic terms:
• At Schnucks purchased stores: The unions have negotiated severance benefits as well as a strong agreement with Schnucks for Shop ’n Save members in stores acquired by Schnucks.
In the case of those workers, impacted UFCW locals have bargained the following:
1. Maintaining current hourly rate of pay for those members acquired.
2. Maintaining comparable weekly hours (within two hours of their average over the past 52 weeks).
3. Preservation of some vacation benefits.
4. Schnucks will waive the contribution tunnels for Health & Welfare and Pension contributions, meaning qualified members will see no break in contributions to their healthcare or pension.
5. The company will waive the waiting time for personal holidays/sick days/national holidays/jury duty/funeral leave.
Unfortunately, seniority is company-wide, not union-wide, and Shop ’n Save employees will not retain their seniority when they are hired by Schnucks, but union officials say since most Shop ’n Save employees at Schnucks acquired stores will continue to work in their current locations with their fellow former Shop ’n Save employees, the impact of the seniority change should be minimal.
An Important note: In acquired stores, any worker who rejects a comparable job offer from Schnucks will NOT be eligible for severance pay.
• At non-purchased stores: Union member employees will be eligible for severance and a short-term continuation of health care and continuation of pension payments under the following conditions:
1. They must continue working at their Shop ‘n Save store until it officially closes or they are released by Shop ’n Save.
2. If applying for a job at Schnucks, Dierbergs or any other employer, regardless of that employer’s hiring offer/benefits, members will still be eligible for earned severance benefits as long as they meet severance conditions noted above for both purchased and non-purchased stores.
Cook urged members with specific questions to go to a special website —ufcw655.org/snsagreement/—where more specifics are available, refer to their union contract, or call their Union Representative.
SCHNUCKS WORKING WITH UNIONS
“These have been grueling, compressed negotiations but our members deserve our best efforts to protect their rights,” Cook said, “and I feel we’ve done a unique job, given what’s happening across the national landscape when companies like Sears or Toys ‘R Us just closed and people were put out on the street with nothing. We’ve worked hard to make sure that is not going to happen to our members.”
Cook also praised Schnucks management for their good faith efforts to be reasonable and fair to Shop ’n Save employees who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. “That’s something our employees and the public need to understand,” Cook said.
“While there are differences on both sides,” he said, “we’re all working to find reasonable compromises while providing our members maximum protections under these very trying circumstances.”