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CONSOLIDATION HAS IMPACT ON LABOR ISSUES

Consolidation this year was as important an issue for food-retailing clerks and truck drivers as it was for corporate executives.In 1999, the fear of job loss following a possible merger and the challenge of maintaining a union's power in the wake of an actual merger led to two of the year's more intense labor-management disputes.Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala., has been in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization

Consolidation this year was as important an issue for food-retailing clerks and truck drivers as it was for corporate executives.

In 1999, the fear of job loss following a possible merger and the challenge of maintaining a union's power in the wake of an actual merger led to two of the year's more intense labor-management disputes.

Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala., has been in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization for nearly two years. This fall, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1657 demanded in negotiations and, when that failed, went out on strike for a week in late September and early October to get a contractual guarantee that, in the event of a sale, Bruno's would require the purchaser to maintain employee seniority and benefits. The final agreement included language to this effect, a union spokeswoman told a local newspaper after the strike.

An ongoing dispute in the Phoenix area between Teamsters Local 104 and Kroger Co., Cincinnati, has focused on how postmerger consolidation can affect union status. According to the local, the dispute arose as a result of warehouse consolidation following Kroger's April acquisition of Fred Meyer, Inc., Portland, Ore., when the company closed two unionized distribution centers and merged their operations with a nonunion facility in Tolleson, Ariz., that services Phoenix-area Kroger stores. The local began picketing the Tolleson distribution center in October, just after Kroger, whose contract with the union was about to expire, sold the warehouse to CSI Retail Services, Secaucus, N.J. In December, the National Labor Relations Board's Phoenix office issued a complaint against Kroger, which calls for an administrative law judge to decide the case. The union said it wants Kroger to restore operations at Tolleson to what they were before the supermarket chain brought in CSI to run the distribution center. Kroger told SN it expects to prevail in court.

Elsewhere in the country, 1999 saw the surfacing of some labor-management tensions, but they were resolved before they resulted in strikes or lawsuits.

In Denver, several chains negotiated new contracts with UFCW Local 7R, with varying degrees of difficulty. In February, Denver-area employees of Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, approved a five-year contract. In May, workers at King Soopers, a Kroger division, ratified a similar three-year contract, but those at Denver-area stores operated by Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., rejected the same offer. In July, two days before the local's members were scheduled to hold a strike vote, union and management resumed their interrupted talks and came up with a five-year contract the workers approved overwhelmingly.

UFCW Local 23 approved a five-year contract with Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, in March. The contract gave workers a 50 cent raise in the first year, leading to a total $1.50 wage hike over the life of the contract, according to the union.

The same month, in central Massachusetts, retail clerks at 13 Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., voted to join UFCW Local 1445.

In June, Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, signed a two-year contract with Teamsters Local 480, which represents workers at the company's York, Pa., facility. The contract included 25 cent per hour raises in the second year as well as the maintenance of health and welfare benefits.

UFCW Local 588 concluded a collective bargaining agreement in August with Ralphs, Compton, Calif., another Kroger division, that covered workers at 30 northern California stores acquired by the chain from Albertson's. The union said it did not try to get more from Ralphs than it had been getting from Lucky Stores, the previous operator of the units.

The NLRB ruled in September that an organizing vote at a Miami warehouse operated by Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., should include 190 warehouse employees and cafeteria workers but exclude about 100 drivers, officer workers and other personnel. Publix said it wanted all warehouse employees to vote in the election that would determine whether a UFCW local would represent them.

TAGS: Kroger