SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A former Big Y Foods department manager has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the company here illegally discriminated against union members when it staffed five stores it acquired from Edwards Super Food Stores, Windsor Locks, Conn.
In his complaint, the ex-manager, Christopher Rivers, said he attended a meeting in 1996 at which Big Y officials discussed acquiring four Connecticut stores and one Massachusetts store from Edwards and renaming them Big Y.
According to the complaint, officials from Big Y decided at that meeting to limit the number of Edwards employees the company would hire for its newly acquired stores to 30%. The reason for the limit, according to the complaint, was to prevent the Edwards employees -- who were largely union members -- from organizing a union at the new Big Y stores.
Rivers said in the complaint that when he objected to the plan, the company fired him.
Big Y officials could not be reached for comment. However, Claire D'Amour, vice president of public affairs, told a local newspaper the chain was cooperating with the investigation but could not comment on the specifics.
The union has also filed a separate complaint, alleging, "Since Sept. 1, 1996, [Big Y] constructively discriminated against a majority of the former Edwards employees by not hiring them in order to avoid bargaining with Local 371, United Food and Commercial Workers Union AFL-CIO."
The NLRB has tried to subpoena Big Y records pertaining to the case. However, since the company's labor counsel was present at the 1996 meeting, Big Y claims that the records are protected under attorney-client privilege. The supermarket has filed a petition to revoke the subpoena on those grounds.
In a letter to the NLRB, an attorney for Big Y said, "Anything said or recorded during that meeting remains privileged and confidential. The company expects that [NLRB's] investigation of the charge will not involve seeking information from or asking questions of Mr. Rivers, or anyone else present at that meeting, regarding what was said or recorded during the meeting [without a waiver from Big Y of its attorney-client privilege]."
The NLRB can now enforce the subpoena or deny enforcement of it, said Brian Petronella, a spokesman for Local 371.
"Big Y deliberately, along with its lawyers, calculated the hiring of former Edwards employees so that they would not have to deal directly with our union," said Petronella. "I hope that the labor board will closely look into this matter and find that the five stores Big Y purchased should be ordered to bargain with our union and offer either jobs or back pay to all those who were denied employment."