Butchers get clerk backing


Staff Writer

TOMS RIVER -- The big sign at the Grand Union says, “Help Wanted,” and by the end of the week the need will be much greater, labor officials claim.

     Leaders of the Retail Store Employees Union Local 1262 voted yesterday to direct their union’s 26,000 clerks and cashiers not to cross the two-day-old picket lines of 7,000 striking meat workers at four supermarket chains. The clerks’ sympathy strike is scheduled to begin midnight Thursday.

     And the Teamsters union has indicated it will not cross the lines, according to Walt Davis, spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464-A, the meat cutters union representing workers at Grand Union, Pathmark, Shop-Rite and Foodtown Stores.

     “Our friends in Poland didn’t invent the word solidarity,” said Davis.

     As Local 464-A members picketed various local stores, their jobs were done by supervisory personnel and temporary help.  A non-meat clerk at one local store predicted conditions will deteriorate considerably when his union stays home.

     “This is the only way anything will get done,” the clerk said. “These people (the meat cutters) can be replaced pretty easily.  But when we go out it will be a lot different.”

     The butchers and deli clerks went on strike Sunday after a strike vote at the local’s Little Falls headquarters. The strike affects 334 stores in north and central New Jersey and New York.

     “We really didn’t have much choice,” said a picket as he endured the cold last night at the Grand Union on Route 37. “The company is trying to take away our benefits.”

     According to Davis, the four chains have proposed cutting holidays, vacations, sick leave and seniority-standing and giving management more flexibility to transfer workers from one job category to another.

     Also proposed is the elimination of a pension plan and other benefits for new workers, and a wage scale that gives less pay to part-time workers than to full-timers, Davis said.

     Donald Vallaincourt, a spokesperson for the four supermarket chains, has countered that the union’s demand for salary increases of between 19.5 percent to 22 percent over three years is unreasonable.

     Area stores reported business as usual without the regular meat workers, although store spokespersons said their comments were limited by orders from company leaders not to discuss the strike.

     Michael Perlmutter, whose family owns six local Shop-Rite stores, said the meat departments stocked “the basics” and had to turn down customers only when they asked for special cuts. He said the temporary help had no major problems in handling the knives and saws used to cut the meat and there were no accidents.

     “Anytime you have temporary help, you have hazards, but we had no incidents today. We didn’t need as much as a single Band-Aid.”

     Business was slow during the early part of the day and then “died completely” in the afternoon, probably because of the snowfall, Perlmutter said.

     The state AFL-CIO endorsed the strike Sunday and voted to urge its 700,000 members and their families to boycott the four chains.

     The strike was affecting supermarkets in 16 of New Jersey’s 21 counties. About 50 of the affected stores are in southern New York State, a union official said.

     Talks between union and management broke down late Saturday, leading to a strike vote and immediate walkout early Sunday. The union’s three-year contract expired at midnight Saturday. No negotiations were scheduled.

     Robert Wunderlee, a spokesperson for Pathmark, said the stores had contingency plans in the event other unions joined the strike.

     “Part of our contingency plans are to have personnel on standby to handle the jobs,” he said. “The clerks have a clause in their contracts that includes a 72-hour strike notice to honor a picket line. That means they would not be able to strike until Thursday at the ealiest.”

     “We have always stayed open in the face of any strike and plan to stay open with this one,” he said.

Ocean County Observer, Toms River, NJ, 01/17/84

Butchers vote to go on strike


Staff Writer  

TOMS RIVER -- About 7,000 butchers and delicatessen clerks of four supermarket chains statewide went on strike yesterday, rejecting a proposed settlement they say would have reduced benefits.

     Pickets were out at some North Jersey locations as early as 11 a.m. following four separate strike votes by employees of Pathmark, Foodtown, Grand Union and ShopRite, said Walter Davis, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464-A. The votes were taken at the union’s Little Falls headquarters.

     “The union membership of each of the four stores listened to an analysis of the companies’ final proposal, and after being duly incensed voted to strike,” Davis said.

     Negotiators for both sides said they were ready to restart contract talks, but by Sunday evening no new discussions had been planned.

     “We feel the ball is in management’s court,” Davis said.

     He claimed the company’s offer consisted of a reduction in holiday and vacation time and other benefits and elimination of a pension plan for new employees, plus a wage package “$20 to $30 less than our sister unions have won in the same geographic area.”

     The striking workers are asking for a 19.3- to 22.3-percent increase in wages, depending on employment classification, over three years, said Don Vallancourt, spokesperson for the four chains.

     Talks aimed at preventing the strike continued as late as 2 a.m. at the Aspen Manor in Parsippany but collapsed after no progress, Davis said.

     A total of 334 supermarkets in northern and central New Jersey and New York are affected by the strike. Other chains, including Acme and A&P, and independent grocers are not involved in the labor dispute.

     Despite cold weather, a group of pickets remained in front of the Grand Union last night and union members said there would be picketing there 24 hours a day to match the store hours. Lines were also drawn around most other stores in Ocean County. There were no problems reported by authorities.

     The supermarkets have hired temporary help to fill in for the striking workers.

     “To be  a journeyman meat cutter, you have to serve a three-year apprentice,” said Davis. “To think that you can just hire inexperienced help and have them use knives and saws is posing a hazard to these people.” Davis also wondered whether the new help will have the knowledge to abide by federal meat processing regulations.

     Davis said leaders of UFCW Local 1262, the retail clerks’ union, would meet today to discuss whether to cross picket lines.  

Ocean County Observer, Toms River, NJ, 01/16/84     

Strike vote set for noon


Staff Writer

TOMS RIVER -- Workers at four supermarket chains were expected to begin a walkout today, although area managers say their stores will remain open

     The 7,000 meat cutters, clerks and drivers belonging to Local 464-A of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, are scheduled to meet at the union’s Little Falls headquarters at noon to approve the walkout.

     Pickets were expected to be out today at various stores.

     Cashiers and certain clerks are not included in the job action but sources said these workers may soon join the job action in a display of solidarity.

     Local 464-A has been unable to agree with Foodtown, Pathmark, Grand Union and Shop-Rite stores on salary and benefits.

     Other supermarkets, including A&P, Acme and independent grocers are unaffected by the labor dispute.

     Contract talks broke down Thursday, and the four supermarket chains and the union filed complaints of unfair labor practices against each other with the National Labor Relations Board. Each side accused the other of failing to negotiate in good faith.

     A three-year contract with the union -- which represents butchers and meat handlers as well as deli, cheese and seafood workers and drivers -- expired midnight last night.  

     With no contract, the union workers say they will not be on the job today.

     An estimated 5.4 million shoppers at 334 stories in southern New York and northern and central New Jersey would be affected by a strike. Stores throughout the state have in recent weeks advertised for temporary help in anticipation of the strike, and say enough workers have been lined up to serve customers.

     “We’ve heard that they (the stores) are going to bring in workers from Florida and Texas to fill our jobs,” said one worker who wished to remain anonymous. “I believe in union solidarity, so if there’s a strike I’ll be on the picket line.”     

     Among the contract issues are the company’s proposal to eliminate a guaranteed two and one-half hours of overtime per week; regular pay instead of double-time and a-half on Sunday; and reduction in personal days, sick days and time off for funerals of family members.

     The union is asking for a 7-percent pay raise in each of the next three years.

Ocean County Observer, Toms River, NJ, 01/15/84