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Hannaford, unions extend contract talks into next week

Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Hannaford employees held a 24-hour strike on Feb. 21 in front of the grocer's South Portland distribution center. They want higher wages and better health insurance. Union representatives and Hannaford started mediation talks on Feb. 26.
By Lori Valigra
Updated:

After two days of talks to iron out a new contract on wages and health insurance and to avert another strike, Hannaford Supermarket officials and the union representing workers at its South Portland distribution center will resume discussions next week.

“No meetings are scheduled for the rest of this week,” the union’s political director, Jim Carvalho, said in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “We have sent the company dates in which we are eager to meet next week and are waiting to hear back from them on their availability.”

After their contract ran out on Feb. 17, 250 workers of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 voted to authorize a strike. The workers rejected a new, three-year contract that included a wage increase of 50 cents per hour for existing employees but also reduced the starting wage for new hires from $20 to $16. The workers held a 24-hour strike on Feb. 21.

“We won’t know what was accomplished until bargaining has been completed,” union President Jeff Bollen said Monday in an emailed response to questions by the Bangor Daily News. “As far as I know, no deliveries were made on Wednesday [during the 24-hour strike].”

It is not clear how long the talks will last.

“The meeting is ongoing and we can’t comment on the details,” Christy Phillips-Brown, a spokesperson for Delhaize America Distribution, said in an email. “We are working in good faith and remain committed to reaching a fair and competitive agreement.”

Phillips-Brown said Delhaize America Distribution was able to serve its clients during the one-day strike.

Only the South Portland distribution center was involved in the strike, Bollen said, because it is the only unionized Hannaford in North America.

Calling the Feb. 21 strike “successful,” Bollen wrote in a Feb. 22 public Facebook post: “The UFCW Local 1445 members in the Hannaford Warehouse stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity to let management know we are serious about negotiating a good contract,” and being respected for the hard work the employees perform.

Hannaford built its 200,000-square-foot distribution center in South Portland in 1960. It serves 103 Hannaford stores in New England, including 63 in Maine.

Hannaford is owned by Dutch company Ahold Delhaize and the distribution center is part of Delhaize America Distribution LLC.

A walkout in 2014 at Market Basket, which owns 79 stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, showed just how damaging a protest can be to the stores, their workers and customers.

Thousands of employees protested against the nonunion supermarket when popular CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was fired by its board of directors in an ownership dispute, according to The Boston Globe. Some 300 warehouse workers and 68 drivers refused to make deliveries, which left store shelves severely depleted. Two months of protests ended on Aug. 27 of that year, when Demoulas bought the supermarket chain.

All stores stayed open during the protests, but Market Basket had to remove thousands of part-time workers from its payroll because of the decline in business. Customers faced empty shelves in the produce and meat sections, though other shelves were well stocked. Some stores lost $65,000 in sales a day from produce alone.

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