I have always said that the landscape of retail is ever-changing. Stores we were used to shopping in when we were younger have given way to different companies, different concepts, newer technology, and of course the changing faces of the employees. Some companies that were once iconic in stature and many that were household names have now been reduced to a fond, but distant, memory.
Although their first stores opened in Queens beginning way back in 1930, when I think of King Kullen, I usually think of Long Island. Considering all 37 of their current stores, when you include the five Wild by Nature’s, are on Long Island, it is pretty understandable why I think that. When I first became a Union Representative, King Kullen was a large part of my life. Truthfully, I was in one or two practically every day representing our members that worked there. Over the years I serviced Long Island, I came to know my members (and all of the managers for that matter) very well. I can honestly say that I feel as if I have grown up and grown older with the Kullen folks.
As I am sure most of you reading this know, in January of this year Stop & Shop announced plans to acquire the King Kullen supermarket chain. Although the rumor mill had been churning for the better part of two years regarding a suitor for King Kullen, the news from Stop & Shop was abrupt and still shocking. Typically, when there is a merger or acquisition, so many variables are presented, and many questions arise. This would be one of the largest events to happen in the history of Local 1500. The company with the largest membership that we represent is acquiring the company with our second largest membership.
Some of the questions that immediately came to mind are: So, what does this mean? When will this acquisition take place? What will become of the buildings that Kullen currently operates? What happens with Stop & Shop and Kullen stores that are near each other? Will any of the stores close? Will Stop & Shop be buying all of the stores? Will Stop & Shop keep the King Kullen or Wild by Nature banners up, or flip all of the stores to their own banner? What will become of the employees in the Kullen stores? Is Stop & Shop absorbing everyone if they close any stores?
All of these questions and many more are very real and very valid. Although we have spoken with Stop & Shop & King Kullen executives several times since the announcement, the merger is pending Federal Trade Commission approval and the formal closing procedure. That means that the government has a say in which stores and how many stores Stop & Shop can purchase. In the past, the FTC has forced companies to divest several stores before approving a merger or acquisition. So, most of the questions you or I can think of, cannot be accurately answered until the FTC weighs in and officially rules on the acquisition.
One thing, however, is certain. Whichever direction this merger/acquisition goes, Local 1500 will make sure that all the proper processes are followed. Our commitment is to ensure the members of Local 1500 are protected and are as minimally affected during this process as possible. There is a lot of unknown ahead, especially for the Kullen group, and we intend to make sure that group is comfortable in this transition. We have had much experience over the years with companies acquiring stores and the treatment of the acquired group of people. We have witnessed somewhat easy transitions, and we have fought vehemently in other cases to protect the rights of our members.
Another thing that I know is what our experience has been when Stop & Shop has acquired stores in the past. We have a long history of positive results in those instances. Dating back to the late 1990’s, Stop & Shop purchased Edwards, and kept everyone ‘whole’, eventually integrating that group of people into the Stop & Shop contract. In the early 2000’s, Stop and Shop purchased Grand Union stores. Again, a relatively smooth transition. The stores in upstate New York had been non-Union at the time, and some of those employees were paying $60 per week for their medical benefits back then. I remember several of the Grand Union employees approaching us and thanking Local 1500 for their “$60 per week raise”—since they didn’t have to pay that weekly medical premium anymore when they joined our Union. It was a good feeling. I wonder how much those employees would have been paying weekly now--almost twenty years later had we not started representing them? Then there was Stop & Shop’s acquisition of 25 A&P stores in late 2015 (twelve of which were our Pathmark supermarkets) during the A&P liquidation auction. Local 1500 aggressively bargained an acquisition contract for those former Pathmark members, ultimately maintaining all of their rates of pay, entitlements and other workplace protections.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying life with Stop & Shop is always a smooth experience. We have had a few very difficult contract cycles in the past where we needed all of your help to succeed. There have been very difficult times and you can bet there will be difficult times to come. What I am saying is that when it has come to acquiring employees from another company, we have had an overall positive experience with them, and expect nothing short of the same cooperation with Stop and Shop during the King Kullen acquisition.
For the employee that ends working for one company, and begins working for another, through no fault of their own, it can be a very difficult and exhausting experience. One riddled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear. That is to be expected, especially when there are no guarantees when going into a transition of this magnitude. To my King Kullen brothers and sisters, my message to you is that we have, as we always do, your best interests at heart. We will not allow you to lose everything you have worked so hard and fought for. Rest assured that my team will be working day and night, once this begins to take shape, to see this transition through, and will make sure the right thing is done by each and every one of you.
My message to every member of Local 1500 is: Continue to stay strong and committed to your Union, and we will weather any storm that comes our way. Know that whether you recently became a member of Local 1500 or you’ve worked for America’s first supermarket for forty-nine years, our Union will always stand firm alongside you.