WESTBURY, N.Y. -- Police were summoned here last week to cool off rising tensions between union employees and nonunion summer help at the King Kullen Grocery Co. warehouse.
While there were no arrests, one summer relief worker was fired after allegedly harassing a union employee, the company said.
The nonunion workers, termed summer relief workers, have been used in past years and do not violate the terms of King Kullen's contract with Teamsters Local 282, the company said. But a spokesman for the union told SN that the appearance of the workers -- just weeks before the warehouse is scheduled to be shuttered -- created additional tension that led to at least three incidents of harassment and intimidation during an early-morning shift last week.
As reported, King Kullen will outsource its wholesaling operations to Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn., effective Sept. 1 in a move to make the 46-store chain more competitive with other Long Island supermarkets. The company is slated to close its 35-year-old facility Sept. 30 and lay off 120 warehouse employees.
Lloyd Singer, a spokesman for King Kullen, said the summer relief workers were necessary because productivity was down since the chain announced it would close the warehouse earlier this month.
"Productivity is down severely, and they've had a lot of sick calls," said Singer. "This is a decision King Kullen had to make so that there was no disruption in the distribution of food."
Gary LaBarbera, international trustee of Teamsters Local 282, acknowledged that there was a decrease in productivity due to the stress caused by the impending closure of the warehouse. However, he said the nonunion workers were far less productive than the union employees.
He added that union employees have offered to work through their scheduled vacations, but the company has ignored that offer. He said appearance of the summer help, just prior to a mass layoff, "was like rubbing salt in our wounds.
"They brought in these people to threaten and intimidate people who have worked for them for 20 years," LaBarbera said.
Local 282's contract expires Aug. 31, at which point the workers will go on strike, LaBarbera said.
The union is also upset over King Kullen's severance package offer. King Kullen spokesman Singer said the company was under no legal obligation to provide any severance package, but called the company's offer a generous one.