Labor Talks Heat Up Between Acme Markets, Union

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Labor Talks Heat Up Between Acme Markets, Union

After 39 negotiating sessions between Philadelphia-based Acme Markets subsidiary and the local labor union that represents its retail clerks over the past 18 months, executives from the Supervalu-owned supermarket chain said they’re prepared for a walkout next month but hope their 4,500 unionized workers in southeastern Pennsylvania will accept the company’s final contract offer to curtail such an action.

Noting that it’s essential to remain competitive against both its unionized and non-union competitors, Acme president Judith A. Spires told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the chain presented its “last best offer” -- a list of non-negotiable terms -- to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 on June 9.

“We have to tighten our belts and stop the bleeding,” said Spires, adding that Acme would impose the new contract terms July 10 -- regardless of whether union members approved the offer. “Nobody wants a strike. Nobody wins in a strike,” she observed during a meeting with the Inquirer’s editorial board that the paper said was arranged at Acme’s request. In the event of a labor strike, Spires went on to say that the chain is “prepared to continue to operate our stores.”

The company’s offer, which it said aims to preserve jobs, access to quality health-care benefits and employee pensions, affects workers at 41 Acme Markets stores in the core Delaware Valley trading region comprising Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The employees have been working on a contract extension since February 2008.

Union officials said a closer look revealed changes that could lead to big job losses and benefits being potentially decimated in a few years.

Wendell Young IV, president of the Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based UFCW 1776, blasted Acme’s take-it-or-leave-it offer as a byproduct of “greed” that reflects a tactic “to scare our members.”

UFWC 1776 members are set to vote on the offer at a meeting next Wednesday; if it’s rejected and Acme proceeds to implement the new terms, the paper quoted Young as saying that the union would interpret the move as illegal and would call for a work stoppage.