RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Angered over changes in the company's medical leave benefits, Times Super Market meatcutters went on strike yesterday. Members of Hawaii Teamsters Local 996 picketed outside the Times Super Market at Liliha Square Shopping Center, above.
Times deli workers on strike
The strike was prompted by a change in the company's medical leave benefits
STORY SUMMARY »
Times Super Market Ltd.'s 118 deli and meat department workers have walked off the job just as the Christmas holiday approaches.
The workers, who are members of Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, are on strike in a dispute over how long the company should pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave.
The picketers have rejected the company's proposal to set limits of one year for existing workers and three months for new employees. There's currently no limit.
The strike affects about 10 percent of the company's 1,100 member workforce -- the rest of which is non-union -- at its 12 stores on Oahu.
FULL STORY »
About 118 workers at Times Super Market Ltd.'s deli and meat departments began striking yesterday after failing to reach an agreement with the company on medical leave benefits.
The picketers, which include meat cutters and wrappers, deli clerks, fish cutters and utility workers, are part of the Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, which rejected a proposal to limit the amount of time the company will pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave. The company wants to set a limit of one year for existing workers and three months for new hires. Currently, there's no limit.
"Theoretically you can be on leave for 30 years," said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for Times. "If you don't put a cap on it there's a potential for abuse. This is a remarkably good deal even with the year."
Times said the one-year limit is four times what is required by the state.
The strike affects about 10 percent of the company's 1,100 member workforce -- the remainder of which is non-union -- at its 12 stores on Oahu. Times, which said it was business as usual yesterday, has tried to fill positions with existing staff and is making arrangements to outsource some of the work.
"I wouldn't walk on this thing if I didn't believe it was worth walking for," said Manny Sardinha Jr., a full-time clerk at Times in Waimalu who has worked at the company for 18 years to support his seven children. "I wholeheartedly have supported this thing from the beginning -- 100 percent -- because it's something we've had for a long time and we don't want to lose it."
The union workers, whose salaries range from $13.38 to $17.72 an hour not including pension benefits, do not pay medical premiums.
"This isn't about the money, this is really about protecting the families of Hawaii," said Ron Kozuma, president of the Hawaii Teamsters. "The potential is there for them to lose their coverage."
Times pays medical premiums of roughly $300 per month for an individual and $600 per month for family coverage, said Clifford Hayashi, Times director of human resources.
That's too costly to continue without limits for workers on extended leave, Hayashi said. "Whoever we provide benefits to now and in the future represents an additional cost to the business. It's not as if we're taking away medical benefits completely."
The union has been negotiating a new contract with Times since the end of September. The workers' contract expired on Oct. 23, and members have been working under an extended agreement. Both the union and Times said this is the only issue holding up a new contract.
However, Times said it hasn't received a final proposal from the union, which said it has put two counterproposals on the table.
Hayashi said the company also is considering making adjustments to the medical leave policy for non-unionized workers, which also have unlimited paid medical leave benefits.
This is the third strike for the union workers at Times, who had a one-day strike in the mid-1990s and five-day strike in the last 12 years.
"A lot of people come for the meat and if there's no one to cut the meat, they'll probably go to Foodland or Safeway and then we'll lose business," said Kyle Johnson, a nonunion cashier at Times in Kaimuki. "But if they think they deserve more and they can get it, they should go for it."