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Union Rep: Waldbaum’s Workers Unwilling to Shoulder Burden

After A&P’s 2010 bankruptcy claim, Local 338 unhappy with demands

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) declared bankruptcy in 2010 and approached all 13 United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Unions, including Local 338 of Waldbaum’s in Carle Place, and asked for “concessionary bargaining to help the company recover financially,” according to Joe Fontano, political director, Local 338.

“The company is seeking savings to help them remain in business and emerge from bankruptcy and they’ve approached their labor force, through the union, basically seeking to re-open the contracts and are looking for savings to help them emerge,” explained Fontano, who couldn’t give specifics on negotiations.

Fontano said negotiations began several months ago and the company has since closed five Waldbaum’s stores and 33 stores under various banners over the past year.

Carl Fowler, a full-time produce clerk in Carle Place and 33-year employee, said, “Nobody really wants to give back. [Management] has a process with a few things: a rate cut, no raises for a period for five years and really nobody wants to deal with that. Nothing is nailed down yet, but that’s their initial proposal and nobody was excited or thrilled to see any of that.”

According to Fontano, negotiations with new management did not start on a good note.

“Basically we’ve entered negotiations with the new management company.

A few weeks before they asked us concessionary bargaining, the company went to the bankruptcy court to seek permission to give its executives millions of dollars in bonuses, which did not start us off well to say the least.

“The bankruptcy is self-inflicted and the company has been under poor management for decades. The truth is people in the stores are the people who have kept this company afloat,” said Fontano.

While he couldn’t offer specific details, Fontano said the company approached Local 338 asking for cuts in wages, cuts in paid time off (PTO), “drastic” reductions in vacations and what he called “ridiculous” health insurance co-payments.

“Initially they were looking to make changes to the pension, moving folks from a defined pension to a 401k. Our members are willing to chip in, we’re not willing to shoulder the burden. The one thing the company has insisted is change in management’s rights, which would give them the right to do all these things but not really give any savings.

“Our members are not willing to give in and shoulder the bankruptcy and take unnecessary cuts in negotiations. We’ve made some progress in some areas but there’s still a long way to go,” said Fontano.

A&P could not be reached for comment.