Contacts: Lori Willis and Michael Kaemmerer,
Council Spokespersons, 314-994-4602
Oct. 31, 2003
ST. LOUIS -- Today, Local 655 members voted by an overwhelming 82 percent to accept a recently revised settlement proposal ending a nearly four-week work stoppage. The new timeline calls for Dierbergs, Schnucks and Shop `n Save associates to return to their positions as early as Saturday morning when stores open at 7 a.m. From that point on, officials say, all stores will quickly restore remaining services and extend hours to resume normal operations.
Michael Kaemmerer, council spokesperson, said Council leaders are pleased with today's decision. "We are looking forward to welcoming our associates back to their stores," he said. "The leaders of Dierbergs, Schnucks and Shop `n Save are all very anxious to put the work stoppage behind us and get on with the business of taking care of our customers and delivering the full range of services they have come to expect from us."
On Oct. 29, after a series of bargaining sessions, Council and Union negotiators reached a settlement agreement with the help of Commissioner Roger Hendrix of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). The Council's Chief Negotiator Bob Flacke explained the goals were different the second time around. "Remember, we spent the better part of this year negotiating a very generous offer, which received a strong Union recommendation. Our goal then was to avoid a work stoppage at all costs," Flacke said.
"We went into this final round of talks with very specific instructions and a new set of goals, " Flacke said. "Company leaders made it clear that, if our stores were to have a chance at regaining and holding our share of the St. Louis market, it was important that we keep costs down in the contract, which ultimately would keep costs down for our customers."
"Contract revisions were made within the same budget parameters included in the first proposal; however, the end product was weighted to provide more relief to associates on the front end of the 47-month contract. We moved costs around within the existing framework and came up with a plan that would address some of the concerns and needs," Flacke explained. "Some of the changes lessened work restrictions and gave the companies more flexibility to operate their stores. Other changes were made in the area of Health and Welfare and will be less tangible to our associates."
Kaemmerer said, "If we are to avoid this same situation three and one-half years from now, it's important that we continue to educate our associates and our community. We must help everyone understand the challenges our industry is now facing and how those challenges could ultimately affect their ability to choose where they buy groceries."
"We are not opposed to competition," he added. "Competition keeps us sharp and helps the customer by ensuring that we all work hard for their business. However, if the competitive landscape changes and union operators are forced out of business in the future, the remaining retailers' motivation to deliver on customer expectations will be greatly reduced."
The next few weeks will be a time of healing for the companies and their associates. "We must work now to rebuild relationships and get back to doing what we do best, serving our customers. There is a lot to do if we are to recapture business that was either redirected or lost altogether, and that will take time," Kaemmerer said.
Currently, temporary workers are finishing their last shifts, and associates are preparing to resume their respective duties. However, the stores they left are not the same stores they will return to. "Until we are able to rebuild our customer base, there will be less hours available in some departments. As business returns, we will reinstate hours for our associates," Kaemmerer said. The Council companies hope that the upcoming holiday season will help draw customers in and increase hours for associates.
Council leaders agree that, while no one wants to see a repeat of this work stoppage, the experience offered a valuable lesson. "Over the past four weeks, we had to reinvent our businesses from scratch with the help of vendor partners and workers hired from within our community," said Kaemmerer. "Throughout the process, we discovered operational efficiencies that we will want to carry forward."
According to Kaemmerer, there also was one other important lesson learned. "Before Oct. 7, we had work stoppage plans on paper, but none of us really knew if we would be able to carry out those plans. Now we know we can," he said.
The Companies also are returning to a more normal routine, which includes actively competing for customers. "We intend to continue negotiating as a Council with regard to labor relations, but we are still competitors, and as such, we will be going into an aggressive bid for customers going into the holiday season," Kaemmerer said.
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