Sept. 22--The sale of more than a dozen grocery stores this week set into motion a complicated series of labor negotiations that included Supervalu, Schnucks and three unions operating under six different contracts. And instead of a typical monthslong negotiating process, the discussions were crammed into just four days.
David Cook, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, and many of the Shop 'n Save employees found out on Monday that Shop 'n Save's parent company, Minneapolis-based Supervalu, had agreed to sell 19 St. Louis area stores to Schnucks while planning to close the remaining 14 stores by Nov. 19.
Local 655 represents a significant number of grocery workers in the St. Louis area, including the 2,500 or so employees working at Shop 'n Save groceries.
"We found out at 5:40 p.m. on Monday and bargained with Schnucks the following day," Cook said, calling the week "a whirlwind."
Most details have been ironed out, though some remain, Cook said.
Most employees being laid off by Supervalu when Shop 'n Save stores close beginning in mid-November -- stores not being acquired by Schnucks -- will be eligible for up to eight weeks of severance pay depending on their time of service. In most cases, health care coverage will carry over for nine weeks, with pension contributions lasting as long as 13 weeks.
And a group of employees that would normally qualify for early retirement will be allowed to do so, "which is a very, very big deal," Cook said.
The approximately 1,500 Shop 'n Save employees being retained by Schnucks, meanwhile, will keep their hourly pay while maintaining comparable workloads.
Those employees will lose their seniority, Cook said, and will start their service time with Schnucks on their first day of work. However, in multiple cases, Cooks said, Schnucks has made exceptions, such as health and welfare or pension contributions, or funeral pay.
Any employee that had three weeks or more of vacation will begin, as of January 2019, with Schnucks with two weeks.
"This is absolutely without hesitation the best we could have provided for our members, though it is not everything or perfect," Cook said. "The reality is when a company goes out of business and you maintain what we've been able to maintain... that's as good of a bad situation as we could have had."
Cook, who steered Local 655 in its last contract negotiation with Schnucks in 2016, praised Schnucks for its decision to buy the stores.
"I want the world to know how appreciative we are of what Schnucks has done," he said. "They stepped up to make a bad situation as good as possible."
Schnucks spokesman Paul Simon said the grocer "made a very strong offer to the Shop 'n Save employees at the 19 acquired stores."
"Starting (Saturday), Schnucks HR representatives will be meeting individually with bargaining unit employees from the acquired stores, and our goal is to hire as many of them as possible," Simon continued. "In addition, we will be hosting a job fair late next week in hopes of adding up to 1,000 more teammates to stores throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area as we staff up for the approaching holidays."
Additionally, Simon said Schnucks will honor Shop 'n Save gift cards at the 19 acquired stores, as well as the standalone pharmacy, when each of the stores open as a Schnucks. Customers must visit the courtesy center before the end of the year with their Shop 'n Save gift cards which will then be converted to Schnucks gift cards, he said.
Cook said the union is also working to find the soon-to-be workers laid off by Shop 'n Save new jobs, including at other area groceries.
Dierbergs Markets this month announced plans to hire about 220 new full- and part-time employees at its 24 St. Louis stores. Positions include management, deli, meat, seafood and produce department jobs. Some of the jobs come with a $400 hiring bonus.
Cook said he's also working with Straub's and other independent grocers about potential employment opportunities.
"Each have alluded to their desire to be competitive with their offers," Cook said.
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