UFCW pharmacists authorize strike

Related video: "Get to know RWDSU/UFCW Local 338"

Ninety Waldbaum’s pharmacists in 35 New York-area stores have authorized a strike after the company’s parent said it wants to pull the plug on their pension benefits. The union said it feared that A&P, which owns Waldbaum’s, was using negotiations with the pharmacists as a test for future negotiations with Local 338’s 6,000 grocery workers.

The contract with the pharmacists expired three weeks ago and A&P wants to move the employees to the company’s own benefits package, which includes a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

That’s a non-starter for the pharmacists, said John DeMartino, secretary-treasurer of the Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW union, who called a strike a last resort.

DeMartino said that wage negotiations have yet to take place and wouldn’t until the pension debate is settled. He added that the union’s retirement fund is in sound financial shape and that the pharmacists have been vocal in their commitment to staying in that plan.

DeMartino also said that no one is asking A&P to make additional contributions to the union pension plan.

A&P officials said they wouldn’t comment on continuing negotiations.

Dan Rizzi, deputy practice group leader for the labor and employment group at Nixon Peabody’s Jericho office, said he is not surprised by the tone of the negotiations.

He said many companies, such as A&P, want to move employees into their own plans. Obviously, he said, unions oppose it.

“Employers like to have great flexibility and certain pension entitlements,” Rizzi said. “They want employees to participate in their plans rather than multi-employer plans.”

But Rizzi said unions need members to stick with their plans to help them maintain financial stability.

“When employers start pulling out, they are placing in jeopardy the viability of the union pension fund,” Rizzi said.

DeMartino said pharmacists are concerned that other Local 338 union members would be hurt if they’re forced out of their benefits package. He added that pharmacists typically make more money than other grocery workers, who depend heavily on the union pension.

DeMartino added that he was prepared to sit down and strike a deal with A&P.

“Hopefully we can come to some agreement,” he said.


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