Our New Union

By: Tony Speelman

Our New Union

As I mentioned in my September column, 2015 year was an enormous test for our entire union. It feels like years ago that we negotiated eight new excellent contracts in the early months of 2015. The new contracts provide a better life for over half of the 22,500 hard working men and women in our union.

After negotiating the new contracts with eight different companies, A&P (the parent company of Pathmark) filed for bankruptcy and announced it would be closing its stores. The A&P bankruptcy has affected tens of thousands of lives, displaced thousands of hard working men and women, and now that the last Pathmark store has closed, its changed the entire landscape of our union.  In January of 2015, 27% of our members worked at Stop & Shop. As it sits today after Pathmark stores were sold off in the bankruptcy, over 40% of our union will now bargain under the Stop & Shop contract.  

The bankruptcy has displaced many men and women, however it has also created many new opportunities for our members who worked for the unreliable, greedy, A&P corporation. Because of the work of our entire union, over 2,000 of our members have continued their careers, kept their benefits, and continued their pension contributions with Stop & Shop, Key Food, ShopRite and Food Town. In addition we also gained more than 700 new members through Key Food, ShopRite and King Kullen purchases of former A&P stores. That’s the definition of what it means to be union. We stick together through good times and bad, find solutions for problems, and we don’t abandon our brothers and sisters.  

This wasn’t done overnight. Stop & Shop, like every company we work with, runs a business. Management’s number one concern is saving money. When it was announced that Stop & Shop would be purchasing a number of A&P stores, we immediately began negotiating with them to insure all union-members would keep their jobs, their pay-rates and benefits.   I would like to thank Stop & Shop for reaching an agreement that did just that.

For the many workers at Pathmark stores that were bought by other employers, you know that wasn’t the case for every transition agreement. Some new store owners wouldn’t guarantee jobs, and when they did, most said they’d only hire at reduced rate! This is the battle we have fought tirelessly over the last six months and will continue to fight in the future. Securing jobs, benefits, pensions and better lives for all Local 1500 members is our number one goal.

We are working on getting new jobs for our Pathmark members at stores that were not bought. We initiated a Pathmark Bench, a rolling detailed list of members affected by the bankruptcy who are looking for a new job. I’m pleased to say we placed over 100 of our members in new jobs. In a few cases we were able to help people get new jobs at stores that were not Union. That may turn some faces of readers out there, but let me make myself clear: Our union members are our partners and our family. We will help one another in any way possible during times of need.

In contrast, I encourage you to read the story on page 11 about Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, which suddenly closed its Hartsdale store. You can clearly see the difference between having a union as your partner and being alone. The company gave no warning to its employees, in fact some employees heard about the closing through an email. The workers at the store had no information and no one to turn to. Hundreds of questions arose in their heads about, what’s next? They immediately contacted our Union’s Organizing Department.  Just as our department was there for the eight Mrs. Green’s workers when they were fired illegally and left out in the cold last year, they were for these new workers with no clear future.

Which brings me to why it’s even more important that our entire union knows this. We need to organize new shops. Best Yet has purchased four of our Pathmark stores, and six other former A&P stores. Some of our former members are now working throughout the chain based on an agreement we fought for in bankruptcy court, which required every store to hire at least 25% of former A&P employees. This gives us an excellent opportunity to organize a union at these stores.

Every hard-working person has earned the right to better wages, better benefits, and a better life. We need to bring this message to all the men and women working at Best Yet. I believe we can.

With your support and partnership, we have helped thousands of men and women who would be without a job and benefits keep their jobs or transition to a new one. That’s especially important during this time of year. I thank you for your support, and as always encourage you to contact me for anything you need (message or tweet me on twitter @aspeel1500 or call me 516-214-1305).

Have a wonderful holiday season, and god bless you all!