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Farmer Jack Employees Agree to Modified Contract

MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. -- Unionized Farmer Jack employees this week ratified a modified agreement aimed at returning the A&P banner to profitability and saving almost 6,000 jobs in the state of Michigan. One of the ways this might be achieved is through a 10 percent pay cut, a measure that workers reluctantly OK'd.

According to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 president Victoria Collins in a statement: "This contract was a tough sacrifice, and many people put their personal feelings and circumstances aside and voted in favor of an agreement they disliked to help their co-workers who need their jobs. The courage, strength, and solidarity displayed by this membership serves as a shining example to all workers facing tough times and difficult choices."

The current agreement was hammered out after crisis bargaining between UFCW and Montvale, N.J.-based A&P last week. After the sale of Farmer Jack to Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan fell through in September, A&P presented the union with the three possible options, according to Local 876: closure, sales to employers without the guarantees and benefits of a union contract, or continued operations by A&P with economic and operational adjustments necessary to make the stores profitable.

"None of the options presented by the company were acceptable, but given the dire circumstances, we did agree to their request to enter crisis negotiations with the understanding our intent was to negotiate improvements to the prior modified agreement," noted Collins. "The union was able to secure some improvements while continuing to protect Farmer Jack members' employer-paid health care and pension with maintenance of benefits."

The new agreement also includes a guarantee that at least 60 Farmer Jack stores will remain open until at least March 2007; the delay of the 10 percent wage rollback until January 2006, with wages restored and a 2 percent wage increase over the contract's five-year term; and improved seniority rights. Other stipulations highlighted in press reports are that if a buyer for Farmer Jack emerges before March 2007, it must consent to buy at least 56 stores and abide by the terms of the new labor contract, and that, starting in March 2006, union employees would be able to share in 5 percent of company profits if they exceed $1 million in a fiscal year.

"In ratifying the [new] agreement, members have signaled their willingness to help A&P turn things around at Farmer Jack and are looking to the company to follow through on [its] commitment to merchandising and operational excellence," said Collins.

Farmer Jack currently operates nearly 70 stores in southeast Michigan.
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