Victory for St. Louis grocery workers

ST. LOUIS – After 25 days of strikes and lockouts, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 655 and Schnuck’s, Dierbergs, and Shop ’n Save announced an agreement on wages and health care benefits covering 10,000 grocery store employees on Nov. 1. The agreement has been hailed as a victory by the union.

The “final offer” of the three chains before the strike called for workers to take on a greater portion of their medical costs through higher deductibles and larger co-pays, while offering lower wage increases than in previous contracts.

On Oct. 7, union members struck Shop ’n Save. Shortly afterwards, Dierbergs and Schnuck’s locked out UFCW members at all of their locations. Ninety-seven stores of the Greater St. Louis Food Employers Council were affected in all.

At the time of the lockout, Mary Holden, a Schnuck’s employee with 22 years of service, told the World, “The bottom line is we got kicked out. We want to work. This hurts. I know many of the customers on a first name basis.”

“This is a slap in the face,” Bill Hale, a 24-year veteran, told the World during the lockout. “We used to think that we could make a career here. Now they just want to hire part-timers. Schnuck’s told us we were part of the family. Well, is this any way to treat your family?”

According to Hale, 9,000 replacement workers were brought in to work the stores. “It doesn’t matter who they bring in,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that the stores are empty. They are throwing out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food because no one is shopping here.”

According to some UFCW members, Schnuck’s, Dierbergs and Shop ’n Save lost an estimated $25 million dollars during the first three days of the strike.

“The community has been wonderful,” said Terrie Brown, an 18-year Schnuck’s employee. “People have gone out of their way to bring us soda, sandwiches, pizzas, cookies and donuts. Some even brought rain ponchos and umbrellas.”

Unions in the area were also supportive. Many Service Employee union members, who do the custodial work in the stores, refused to cross the picket line, even though their contracts didn’t protect them. “I won’t work with scabs,” Billy Oliver, an SEIU Local 50 member, told the World during the strike.

The meatcutters, members of a separate UFCW local, also walked out. The Teamsters refused to deliver. And many others contributed money to the strike fund.

The new contract eliminates the annual health care deductible, increases the ratification bonus to 45 cents for each hour worked in the past year, up from 20 cents, and increases baggers raises from 5 cents-an-hour to 10 cents-an-hour each year.

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org