1/12/08

Hawaii Teamsters strike disaster

Even though the more than 100 unionized Times Super Market workers have stopped picketing in front of the chain's stores, negotiations with the company are still in difficult straits.

The Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Local 996 is emphasizing that there is no settlement yet. The union is contesting Times' offer to take back less than 25 percent of the chain's unionized workers -- or 26 out of 116 -- leaving 90 employees in the lurch.

Ron Kozuma, president of the 6,000-member Hawaii Teamsters, said Times' ohana spirit has gone by the wayside due to its mainland owner, Quinn's Supers Inc. "It's unfortunate," Kozuma told the Star-Bulletin. "The company's mainland philosophy seems to be that it's more about the bottom line, and not taking care of the employees."

Bob Stout, Times director of operations, said that as of this weekend, the company is bringing back 28 percent of its workers. Mathematically, that would calculate to 33 out of 116 workers.

He confirmed that full-time deli clerks would not be brought back due to elimination of that position.

"Basically, we're just doing an orderly return to work based on current need," said Stout.

Stout said the company has taken a loss due to the striking workers, and that it would bring back union workers as business improves, based on seniority and classification.

He declined to disclose how much Times has lost due to the strikes. The deli clerk positions were dissolved, however, during the strike.

"This strike forced us to do business differently," he said.

The union represents more than 100 meat cutters and wrappers, deli clerks, fish cutters and utility workers who walked off the job on Dec. 17, right before the busy holiday season.

The Teamsters says it presented Times with a "return to work offer" on Monday evening through a federal mediator, and called off the pickets on Wednesday.

Kozuma said the motivation for the return to work offer was to stop the hiring of permanent replacement workers, but that Times should have worked instead on resolving its issues through negotiations. Many of the striking union members have worked for the company more than 30 years, he said.

Negotiations between the Teamsters and Times have centered primarily around how long the company should pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave.

Earlier, the Teamsters rejected the company's proposal to set limits of one year for existing workers, and three months for new hires.

Currently, there is no limit.

The Teamsters also say that Times' final offer would take away the guarantee of a 40-hour work week for full-time employees, and contributions to their retirement fund.

Kozuma said the Teamsters are still waiting for additional information from Times, and then will regroup to discuss options.

Times Super Market has 12 stores on Oahu. The strike affected about 10 percent of the company's 1,100-member workforce, the rest of which is nonunion.

Stout said competition has gotten stiffer, as non-union big box retailers dominate the Hawaii market.

"It puts us at a complete disadvantage, in operating costs, pricing and growth opportunity," he said.

(starbulletin.com)

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