February 19, 2008

King Kullen: Union Demanding Too Much in Contract

By James Bernstein, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Feb. 19--King Kullen, Long Island's only family-owned supermarket chain, said yesterday one of its union locals is making "unrealistic demands" in contract talks and was being "disingenuous" in saying the company is attempting to reduce pension and medical benefits.

Employees at seven King Kullen stores on Long Island walked off their jobs Sunday in four-hour shifts before returning to work.

Negotiations between King Kullen and Local 342 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents 371 of the company's employees in the meat and seafood departments, have stalled. The workers have been without a contract since October.

Local 342 officials said yesterday that no picketing was taking place at any King Kullen stores.

In a statement, King Kullen said the job action "is not about jobs being cut or wages being reduced," according to spokesman Lloyd Singer.

"It's about the union making unrealistic demands on the supermarkets operating in this area," he said.

Local 342 officials declined requests for comment on the King Kullen statement. But the union has said King Kullen is attempting to reduce pension and medical benefits and remove contract language that protects workers from layoffs.

Local 342 also is in negotiations with several other supermarket chains, including Waldbaum's, Pathmark and Stop & Shop, according to the local's Web site.

Singer said King Kullen had offered Local 342 members "significant improvement in wages, as well as maintenance of existing pension and contribution-free medical benefits."

"Just to maintain existing pension benefits will result in a 70 percent increase in our pension costs, and the cost to maintain current medical benefits is expected to increase by nearly 60 percent," Singer said.

The Bethpage-based company said the offer increases its costs by about $11 million for the 371 employees of Local 342.

"Clearly, the union is disingenuous when they say the company is attempting to reduce pension and medical benefits and remove contract language that protects workers from layoffs," Singer said. "We have put this generous offer on the table, remain hopeful that a settlement will be reached, and are waiting for a response from the union."

King Kullen said its 51 stores, including 45 on Long Island, are open for business.

On Sunday, Local 342 accused King Kullen of bargaining in bad faith and said stores may be picketed in the near future.


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