WEST BERLIN, N.J. -- The union representing 1,400 striking workers at 10 Shop Rite supermarkets in southern New Jersey, supplied by the Wakefern Food Co., Elizabeth, N.J., last week rejected the latest company contract proposal for settling the four-week-old strike.
Clay Bowman, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1360 here, said Shop Rite/Wakefern's latest offer was "grossly inadequate" and characterized it as a "huge step in the wrong direction."
Management at the affected stores said their offer is similar to one that has been accepted by union workers at other area supermarkets.
George Zallie Sr., chief executive officer of Zallie Supermarkets, said, "We have always negotiated in good faith, so we took the initiative to present a revised proposal at this time."
Zallie also noted that the revised contract was similar to ones ratified by Local 1360 members employed by other supermarkets in the area.
Steven Ravitz, president, Supermarkets of Cherry Hill, said, "If the wage proposal was adequate for that contract negotiation, then it should be adequate for Shop Rite."
Shop Rite/Wakefern wants to drop its wage offer from an increase of 60 cents per hour to 40 cents per hour for department heads, from 50 cents per hour to 40 cents per hour for full- and part-time clerks, and from 25 cents per hour to 20 cents per hour for customer service representatives, according to the union.
Bowman also said the companies wish to take $1 million from the union workers' current benefit fund and create a new fund for workers that provides "comparable benefits." Bowman said that he feels the union workers' benefits fund is best managed by the union and objects to any outside operator controlling the fund.
He explained, "We have been willing to meet the company even more than halfway on this contract if it meant getting a fair settlement. From what we see in this latest proposal, it is obvious that Shop Rite/Wakefern is not interested in any kind of a settlement."
Ravitz said, "With respect to the health and welfare coverage, the revised proposal addresses a key concern expressed by union leadership and our associates. The union asked for a guarantee that their benefits would be maintained without co-pays for the life of the contract. This proposal accomplishes exactly that."
Zallie said, "By choosing an employer-sponsored plan, instead of one managed by the union's Tri-State Health and Welfare Fund, we can guarantee our associates that their benefits will be maintained throughout the duration of their contract without any co-payments."
However, management pointed out that other companies, including Pathmark, Carteret, N.J., have managed workers' health care funds successfully.
Zallie said, "With a company-sponsored plan we'll be able to protect our associates' benefits for today and in the future."
In response to Shop Rite/Wakefern's latest offer, Bowman said the union has made an offer of its own.
"We have offered as a counterproposal a deal in which we would drop our demand for immediate dependent health coverage until the very last day of the contract, and we agreed to accept the wage offer that the company made last week in its so-called final offer," Bowman explained.
"In addition, we would agree to let the company use $1 million in pension fund reserves to finance a three-year deal, but only if they agree to provide the necessary funding to maintain health benefits and remain in the health and pension funds that have union representation on their respective boards," he continued.
Bowman said the union was even willing to accept the company's proposal on wage rates for new hires that was offered last week, even though that would mean that the new top rate of $10.75 for new workers would be 50 cents per hour lower than the deal the Union recently settled with Wakefern's Big V Shop rite stores.
Bowman said UFCW Local 1360 members in the retail food industry held a meeting last week to vote on doubling their union dues to help striking workers maintain their health benefits and wage rates.