When news broke that Malvern-based Acme Markets and Albertsons Cos. grocery stores were being purchased by Kroger Markets, UFCW 1776 President Wendell Young IV knew exactly what he had to do — and fast.
This is not the first major transaction, merger, sale, or bankruptcy of a grocery chain that he has confronted as the head of a Union with almost 35,000 members, including employees at Acme in Pennsylvania and Kroger workers in West Virginia and Ohio.
“Immediately, we needed to tell our members that we will fight to protect their jobs and enforce their union contracts,” said Young. “They needed to know that UFCW 1776 will protect their wages and their benefits throughout this process. This is the beginning of a long process, one that could take up to two years, and we will stand with our members every step of the way.”
UFCW 1776 represents approximately 3,500 workers at Acme in southeast Pennsylvania, and 1,000 workers at Kroger in West Virginia and Ohio.
Across the nation, this merger impacts close to 350,000 UFCW members in 70 different Locals, including 1776. Young is in contact with UFCW International and his peers at other UFCW Locals whose members will be impacted.
“This proposed transaction is the largest in the grocery sector ever. But our International stands with every impacted Local to develop a national comprehensive and unified strategy to help ensure the best outcome for every single UFCW member,” said Young, who attended a meeting of the International and other Locals in Chicago this past week.
“This transaction is driven entirely by investors who want to get out with billions of dollars. We are talking about combining the top two largest grocers in the nation and the best thing for UFCW is to be at the table to help negotiate the terms that our members and these communities deserve,” he added.
Young said that Marc Perrone, President of UFCW International, has begun to build a team of professionals to assist the entire UFCW team in navigating this merger.
In the Philadelphia region, Young said the major challenge will be to ensure that there is sufficient capital to make the necessary investments to ensure that Acme stores remain viable and are able to thrive. In the western markets, it is likely that regulators will require that some stores be spun off to ensure competition. Young stressed that “these jobs out west must be protected.”
“The public needs to understand that there are a lot of ways that workers and communities can get hurt by the time this is over. These stores are a critical part of neighborhoods across southeast Pennsylvania. These workers are their neighbors. They coach little league, volunteer at the food bank, and so much more,” Young said. “This is a large, large transaction with billions of dollars on the table. Our job at the Local is to make sure we focus on our members, their families, and the communities they serve.”
Young noted that UFCW 1776 members at Acme and other grocery stores continue to benefit from their union contracts.
“Because they have a union contract, our members at Acme stores here in eastern Pennsylvania and at Kroger in Ohio are still working and are still receiving wage increases,” Young said. “Both Kroger and Albertsons are paying for increases to retirement plans and stronger healthcare benefit packages.”
UFCW 1776 represents approximately 35,000 members in a wide array of sectors, including retail, healthcare, food processing and packaging, gaming, and manufacturing. For more information, please visit United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.