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Economy & Business

Schnucks workers accept contract and avoid strike

Maria Altman| St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on Oct. 27, to include contract vote approval - Schnucks union employees approved a new contract Wednesday night, avoiding a potential strike.

The members of the UFCW Local 655 voted 1,020 to 507 in favor of the three year agreement.

The original contract expired in May. Union members rejected a previous version in September. The union recommended a yes vote to the membership before last night’s decision.

In a statement emailed to St. Louis Public Radio, UFCW Local 655 President David Cook said, “Schnucks management listened to our concerns and worked with us to provide a significantly revised agreement that our membership supported with tonight’s vote. Our members deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices with a fair contract. The significant concessions from Schnucks show they understood that and came back to the table with a much better contract.”

Both parties recognized the benefits of the new contract.

“We have worked with Local 655 for decades and our goal is always to reach an agreement that’s a win-win for our teammates and the communities we serve,” said Todd Schnuck, Chairman and CEO of Schnuck Markets in the same statement. “This is an important contract in the face of increasing competitive pressures from nearly 600 non-union stores. It is important that we all get out and spend our dollars with union retailers.

The agreement lays out future pay raises and ensures that there will be no loss of health insurance, including spouses and dependents and no change in pension benefits for current employees.

The contract also secured two-week advance schedules, so employees can have an easier time scheduling personal appointments.

Additionally, all employees, not just full-time, will now receive 24 hours of notice about a schedule change.

Employees who leave their position under good terms will be paid out any unused personal holidays and employees will be able to maintain their seniority if they transfer between other UFCW represented Scnucks stores.

However, in the copy of the contract released by UFCW Local 655, they argue that despite bonuses detailed in the contract, the wage increases overall are still less than the cost of living and that employee’s health and welfare premium shares will go up before the raises take effect.

This contract could have far-reaching consequences. Dierbergs and Shop ‘n’ Save engaged with Schnucks in coordinated bargaining with UFCW Local 655. All three companies agreed to adopt the same wage, health insurance and pension changes established by last night’s contract vote. But voting on the Dierbergs and Shop ‘n’ Save agreements has not yet been held.

If the deal had not passed, the union would have given Schnucks a five-day strike notice.

Our original story: 

Thousands of grocery store workers in the St. Louis region are on the verge of a strike. Unionized employees at Schnuck Markets have rejected the company’s most recent contract offer and approved strike action. Union leadership says it wants to resume talks before any walkout takes place. The chief executive officer of Schnucks says more talks will take place.

In a statement emailed to St. Louis Public Radio, Todd Schnuck says he wants to come up with a contract that works for its members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655, while keeping the company competitive with more than 580 non-union supermarkets and stores selling food in the St. Louis region.

“We'll be meeting with 655 leadership for what we expect to be productive and meaningful discussions,” Schnuck said.

“Just as we have had with numerous union leaders over the years.”

Working hours and health care coverage appear to be two of the main sticking points.

The union says a clause in the rejected proposal would reduce the required number of full-time jobs, leading to the potential reduction of 133 positions.

Leadership is also concerned with language that it says will eliminate a minimum guarantee of 25 hours a week for part-time workers. That combined with other changes could eliminate health care coverage for a significant number of employees.

The union contends the suggested rates are not good enough to maintain current health care coverage. Officials say the offer would lead to higher prescription costs, increased deductibles and the elimination of vision, dental and disability benefits for some workers.

Wages are usually a key issue in contract negotiations and this standoff is no different. Union officials say the proposed hikes are less than cost of living increases. With jumps in health benefit costs, some employees would see their take home pay reduced twice, before they would receive a raise.

UFCW Local 655 members rejected the contract offer Monday night. They also cleared the way for leadership to call a strike. The union has to give five days’ notice before any walkout takes place.

In a statement released before the strike vote, Todd Schnuck accused the union of using a public relations campaign to gain attention.

“We aren’t surprised, but are disappointed that leadership appears to be steamrolling a 'vote no' campaign,” Schnuck said.

“Overall it takes the opportunity away from our teammates to decide on what’s best for themselves and their families.”

The negotiations have an impact that reaches beyond Schnucks stores and could affect most people who buy their groceries in the St. Louis region.

Union officials say management at Dierbergs and Shop ‘n Save has indicated they will sign the same economic package once Schnucks workers reach a deal. But if the union decides to go on strike, leadership has stated members at the other two grocery chains could be locked out.

The contract for roughly 4,500 Schnucks workers expired in May and has been extended on a daily basis during the negotiations.

There is no word on when the talks might resume.

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