Grocery workers face union vote on contract in St. Louis

Monday, September 29, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Union workers at the three largest supermarket chains in the city are voting on a new contract, and a strike is a possibility, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Sunday's edition.

The proposed four-year contract includes two additional vacation days and more full-time jobs for workers at Schnucks Markets Inc., Dierbergs Markets Inc. and Shop 'n Save Warehouse Foods Inc. It also includes concessions on pay and health benefits.

It's unclear if the 10,000 members in Local 655 will approve the agreement.

Results from a mail-in ballot are expected Tuesday.

"This is the best contract we can get without a strike," said union president Bob Kelley, a labor veteran who replaced Nick Torpea this year as leader of Missouri's largest union.

If members reject the contract, union officials will call for a strike vote the next week. If two-thirds of the members who attend that meeting support a strike, the union would picket at least one of the chains. The other supermarkets, however, would lock out union members and could possibly hire replacement workers.

If the union did not get the necessary two-thirds vote to strike, the contract ultimately would take effect.

Leadership at the three grocery store chains said the contract could help control costs and help keep pace with nonunion competition, like Wal-Mart, Costco and Walgreen's.

"The three of us are scared that one of us is not going to be in business at some point in the future. We don't know when. Is it tomorrow? No. Is it a year from now? No. But at some point, one of us is not going to be here, because there is not enough business for all of us and Wal-Mart," said Marlene Gebhard, president of Shop 'n Save.

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