In late June, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, which represents thepharmacists, attended an A&P special shareholders meeting onJune 26 in Woodcliff, NJ and voted against several proposals thatincluded easing the path for the company to acquire new companiesand the issue of incentive pay at a level of store managers andabove. But the union's attempt to discuss the issue of thepharmacists' retirement package was rebuffed at the meeting, saidJohn DeMartino, secretary-treasurer of Local 338, who attended themeeting with a petition signed by 2,000 employees supporting thepharmacists. Local 338 represents all employees but meat andseafood workers.

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The local is an A&P shareholder with rights to vote onproposals, DeMartino explained.

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"We wanted to talk about the plight of the Waldbaum'spharmacists, but they said this is not what this meeting is about,"DeMartino said. (Officials of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P declinedto comment for this story, citing a policy not to comment ondetails of negotiations.)

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The first major sticking point is the retirement package.A&P wants the members to migrate to its 401(K) program, whilethe union wants to keep its multiemployer-funded pension plan.

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"This is extremely unusual," DeMartino said. "This is the firsttime we're encountering this dumb demand. The people have spoken –they want the same plan, the same contribution rate."

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Though this contract applies only to approximately 90 employees,it could set an example for other employees, DeMartino warned.

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"A&P's corporate strategy is to do the same for everybodyelse," as contracts come up, DeMartino said. The company nowoperates 447 units in eight states, under the names A&P,Waldbaum's, Pathmark, Best Cellars, The Food Emporium, SuperFoodmart, Super Fresh and Food Basics.

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He said A&P insists on the move to improve their Moody'srating and thereby get better financing rates for future expansion.But the pension fund is in "extremely great shape," DeMartino said,giving the members no reason to transition.

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"These people work [for the company] for 30, 40 years. This isall they have," he said. "It's crazy."

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The pharmacists' contract expired in April, but they haveremained on the job, despite authorizing a strike in May and filingcharges of unfair labor practices against the chain in June.

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"We don't want a strike. It's not our intent, not our goal,"DeMartino said.

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The conflict is nothing new, says a supermarket consultant.

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"It's a trend with a lot of grocers," said David J. Livingston,a Pewaukee, WI-based supermarket consultant.

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But A&P's shaky economics could make the whole situationmoot. Despite its acquisition of Pathmark last year, the companyexited several markets, Livingston said. "They are still not a goodoperator."

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The company reported sales of $6.4 billion in fiscal 2007, upfrom $5.4 billion in 2006. Comp-store sales rose 2.4. But thecompany posted a net loss of $160.7 million last year, comparedwith earnings of $14.1 million in 2006. During 2007, the companyacquired Pathmark, but sold Metro, exiting markets outside theNortheast.

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DeMartino said, the union is hoping to resolve the retirementplan question and go on to negotiate the rest of the contract. "Weare still trying to reach agreement with the company," DeMartinosaid. "All options are still on the table."

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