KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Associated Wholesale Grocers here said it has signed new three-year agreements with two Teamster locals that include language stating both sides pledge to work to improve their relationship.
The new contracts -- which cover approximately 550 warehouse employees represented by Teamster Local 955 here and 700 employees represented by Local 245 in Springfield, Mo. -- run through April 1, 2000. AWG called the contract pledge "an innovative act of cooperation," and a union executive said the agreement by both sides to work together for their mutual benefit concludes an extended period during which relations between the two sides have been "testy."
Under the contract terms, management representatives from AWG will meet with employees on a regularly scheduled basis -- "not to negotiate but to develop ways to improve efficiency and worker satisfaction," Mike DeFabis, AWG president and chief executive officer, explained. "People who do a job day-in-and-day-out have valid, valuable information and suggestions. We want to hear what they have to say."
Jim Kabell, secretary-treasurer of Local 245, said the unions were close to declaring a strike in early November when DeFabis took a personal role in the negotiations.
"Mike came in near the end and took a leadership role and enabled both sides to work out a new contract," Kabell told SN. "It was his idea to see if we could develop better ways of doing things and maybe learn to play well together to eliminate the animosity that has developed."
Representatives of the Kansas City local could not be reached for comment last week.
The contract with the Springfield local expired April 26, 1996, and although the two sides met throughout the spring and summer, one major roadblock, according to Kabell, was AWG's desire to change the way drivers are paid -- switching from an hourly rate to one based on mileage and the number of stops, "which would have resulted in pay cuts of 20% to 30%, according to our analysis," Kabell told SN. In the ultimate agreement the hourly approach to wages was retained, with "decent wage increases," Kabell told SN.