WESTBURY, N.Y. -- Workers at King Kullen's grocery warehouse here went on strike last week after rejecting the company's offer of $1.5 million in severance pay to be divided among 112 Teamsters whose jobs will be eliminated when the warehouse closes Sept. 30.
The union is also angry that the company will not reconsider its plans to outsource its distribution to a nonunion wholesaler.
"This strike is about respect and dignity," said Gary LaBarbera, international trustee for Teamsters Local 282. "We're sending a message to King Kullen to keep the facility open. But they refuse to entertain or seriously consider our proposals. It saddens us that it had to come to this."
Lloyd Singer, a spokesman for the chain, said King Kullen's decision to use Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn., as its wholesaler is irreversible. A five-year contract was signed earlier this summer, he said.
The move, announced and reported in SN this summer, is designed to make King Kullen more competitive with other Long Island chains, which outsource their distribution, the company said.
King Kullen is under no legal obligation to offer any severance package to the employees, Singer told SN. However, the company has offered:
To make extra payments to the union pension fund to allow employees who need another year of credits to collect their pensions.
In a written statement, Bernard D. Kennedy, King Kullen president and chief operating officer, said the offer "far exceeds" the severance agreements the Teamsters reached with Edwards Super Foods Stores and Grand Union in 1995 and 1996 when they closed warehouses on Long Island.
The union said it has not put a dollar figure on the table and called the offer inadequate. The local wants the company to set up a hardship trust fund for the laid-off workers.
Joining Local 282 on the picket lines last week was Local 202, the union representing King Kullen's produce warehouse, also based here. LaBarbera said the company's meat warehouse workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 174, were also expected to honor the picket line. Store clerks represented by the UFCW have a no-strike clause in their contracts.
Picketing took place at the warehouse, King Kullen's offices here, and about 25 stores, LaBarbera said.
King Kullen spokesman Singer said, "Every contingency plan is in place to ensure there is no disruption in the delivery of goods to our stores. They are fully stocked." Singer said the deliveries were coming from Bozzuto's 600,000-square-foot facility in Cheshire, Conn.
Union officials had sought a three-month moratorium on the outsourcing in order to propose alternatives to the closing -- including selling the facility to a third party. To explore this, Local 282 retained New York-based consulting firm Locker Associates, which specializes in representing unions in financial transactions.
Michael Locker, the firm's president, said there are three possible alternatives to shutting down the warehouse: contracting with a third-party operator; selling the warehouse to its employees and/or a third-party operator; and expanding the current business.
Locker told SN there are a handful of "tire-kickers" in the food industry who have shown interest in the grocery warehouse, though he declined to name them. King Kullen has not announced what plans it has in store for the facility, which measures 120,000 square feet and has been in use since 1962.
However, a feasibility study is virtually impossible, Locker said, because King Kullen has not given the firm access to financial information or other data concerning the facility. The soon-to-be-displaced workers have been offered an opportunity to interview with Bozzuto's, said officials from King Kullen and Bozzuto's. But the union said none have actually applied for new positions.