When the time comes to sit an write this article every few months, it occasionally takes me a few days to find a topic or message that our membership will find value in. I would hope that many of you have been able to take something positive away from my past articles. When the time came to sit and write this one it was pretty easy. We have had quite a few significant events since the December edition of the Register was published.
For starters, our largest employer, Stop & Shop made a bid to purchase our third largest employer, King Kullen and their subsidiary natural foods division, Wild by Nature. This announcement came as a shock to more than 2,500 Local 1500 members on January 4th, 2019. The family run King Kullen Company had been slowly reducing its number of stores and not really pursuing too many new store openings over the last 5-10 years but the thought of a sale to the largest supermarket retailer in our jurisdiction still sent a major shockwave throughout our King Kullen and Wild by Nature stores across Long Island.
Unfortunately, shortly after the news broke there was a long government shutdown. The 35-day government hiatus extended the amount of time necessary for the companies to close the sale and move towards beginning the acquisition process. This was NOT what our members needed during this time of uncertainty and concern. We are still closely monitoring this sale and stand ready to step in at any point to ensure that only the best scenarios unfold for our members. As a reminder this sale is not final until the deal closes and if todays world of mergers and acquisitions has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. A recent example that demonstrates that mantra would be the multiple attempts that Rite Aid made to merge with both Albertsons and Walgreens. Until the deal is signed and fully approved by the government nothing is for sure.
I am proud to report that, after almost 16 months of bargaining, the Fairway membership finally got to vote on their new contract. When this process began in November of 2017 the negotiating committee all assumed that we would be able to reach an agreement prior to the April 1st, 2018 expiration date. Obviously, that didn’t happen and for many months there was so little movement from the company that we suspended bargaining. Eventually we got back to the table and listened to many hours of presentations from Fairway management as to the overall financial status of the employer. After sending the Union’s accountant in to examine Fairway’s finances we had a much clearer picture of how difficult these negotiations were going to be moving forward.
However, after what felt like years at the table, a final offer was presented to the committee on 2/12/19 and a membership vote was scheduled for 2/22/19. This was a very difficult contract to present to the membership for their consideration and vote, but it needed to be done. The final offer included the preservation of overtime pay (time and a half) for all part-time hours worked on both Saturday and Sunday, ensured that all Pension & Welfare contributions would be in line with all of the rest of our employers, increased starting rates for all classifications, increased a few of the existing classification premiums, added a new department manager classification, provided modest wage increases and protected the guaranteed weekly overtime hours for our most senior part-timers. For many of you reading this article this may seem like a great settlement. Although none of the Union or rank and file negotiators were exactly thrilled, we also recognized that we had gotten all that there was to get and decided that we needed to present it to the membership for a vote.
This vote on this offer was held in 6 existing Fairway locations on Long Island, in New York City and in New Jersey. I am proud to report that we had fantastic voter turnout and members came from every store in the chain and exercised their right to vote. Proudly I can report to you that our members from Fairway proved once again that they truly are “Like No Other Market” by overwhelmingly voting yes on their new three-year contract. I want to personally thank the membership from Fairway for their patience and support throughout this process. I would be remiss if I didn’t give significant credit to the team of rank and file negotiators who fought with and stood by us throughout negotiations for doing an outstanding job! Kenny, Patricia, John, Ralph, Ray M., Ray R. & Jerome this would not have been possible without you!
Unfortunately, I need to close this article on a sad and somber note. On February 24th, 2019, the Local 1500 family suffered a big loss when Harry “The Hammer” Hamann passed away suddenly and tragically. For those of you that knew and worked with Harry, you know he was one of a kind, gigantic presence no matter what room he was in. I had the privilege of meeting and working with Harry as a young part-time member on the Pathmark negotiating committee back in 1994 and worked with him for more than 2 decades as a representative of Local 1500. Harry LOVED to negotiate the Pathmark contract on behalf of his fellow members. Harry could “push your buttons”, “stir the pot” and “break balls” in legendary fashion and laughed his head off every time he got to do it. He fought for and protected his fellow members every day in the stores and rarely took his eye off the big picture. To Harry’s loving wife Elinore, a long-term rank and file VP on our Executive Board from Glass Gardens ShopRite, and all of his family and friends, there are no words to express how much Harry meant to us. Harry’s legacy will surely be felt for years to come, even by people that never had the pleasure to be in his company. R.I.P. Harry, I will think of you every time I hear “Thunder”.