Times employees to review new offer
New proposal would take workers off picket lines
STORY SUMMARY »
More than 100 workers stopped picketing yesterday at Times Super Market stores on Oahu after a new offer from the company held out hope of an end to their three-week strike.
Members of the Hawaii Teamsters Local 996 are expected to discuss the latest offer today, though the union hasn't scheduled a vote. The union represents about 118 meat cutters and wrappers, deli clerks, fish cutters and utility workers who walked off the job Dec. 17.
The workers are striking over how long the company should pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave. They earlier rejected the company's proposal to set limits of one year for existing workers and three months for new hires, the only sticking point barring a new contract. There's currently no limit.
The strike involves about 10 percent of the company's 1,100-member workforce -- the rest of which is nonunion -- at its 12 stores on Oahu. The company says that if an agreement isn't reached soon, it will hire permanent replacements for all positions.
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After three weeks on strike, more than 100 workers at Times Super Market stores stopped picketing yesterday when the union received a new proposal that members are set to review today.
However, the Hawaii Teamsters Local 996 hasn't scheduled a vote on the proposal for about 118 meat cutters and wrappers, deli clerks, fish cutters and utility workers, who walked off the job on Dec. 17.
"We've called the picketers off of the stores," said Ron Kozuma, union president. "We are going to meet with membership to discuss the issues."
At issue -- and the only sticking point -- is how long the company should pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave. The workers earlier rejected a company proposal to set limits of one year for existing workers and three months for new hires. There's currently no limit.
The strike has affected about 10 percent of the company's 1,100-member workforce, the rest of which is nonunion, at its 12 Oahu stores.
The union began negotiations with Times at the end of September. The workers' contract expired Oct. 23 and members had been working on an extended agreement.
Times executives said they expected union members to vote on the proposal within the next few days, but said they have no indication what the outcome might be. The proposal is the same package being offered to nonunion members.
"We were optimistic before and you saw what happened, so I have no idea -- it's anybody's guess," said Bob Stout, Times director of operations.
Times officials haven't tallied the amount of losses incurred during the strike, though it came at the market's busiest time of the year.
"A strike is disruptive when you have people walking off," said Eric Epling, a spokesman for Times. "That posed some difficulties."
A handful of union members crossed the picket lines and returned to work within the last few days, Epling said.
Times also has hired replacement workers, some on a temporary basis, to ensure the meat department operations are uninterrupted. The next step is hiring permanent replacements for all positions if the strike doesn't come to an end soon, he said.
"Times has got to take whatever steps that are necessary to ensure the continued quality of operations," Epling said. "The people on strike are still members of the Times family -- it isn't the case of Times wanting to replace them. Really what's driving this is the economic realities of this market."
Many of the company's competitors are nonunion, including big-box retailers such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market. Times has said it can no longer pay for unlimited benefits if it wants to survive in Hawaii's highly competitive market.
"To continue to operate the way things have been in the past is very difficult," Epling said. "(The union) is expecting Times to shoulder costs that in some cases far exceed what its competitors are doing."