Many of the estimated 90 to 150 unionized workers at the three Philadelphia-area Acme Markets stores would be eligible to transfer to other stores, but at the expense of reducing the hours worked by existing personnel at the surviving stores, said union leader Wendell Young of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.
More broadly, though, Young was alarmed by what the store closings symbolize for a company that has been contracting through closings and layoffs for several years now, and whose turmoil has only further intensified in recent months.
"This is a pattern that companies get into when they're in their final stages," said Young, whose union represents workers at Sharon Hill. UFCW Local 1360 in South Jersey represents clerks in Glassboro and in Morrisville.
"This really worries us," said Young, in a telephone interview from Charlotte, N.C., where he was attending the Democratic National Convention.
Young pointed out that Supervalu has been prowling for buyers while also being so tight for cash that it is hardly reinvesting in local stores. Meanwhile, Acme continues to be battered by competitors such as Wegmans, Giant and Shop Rite.
Of particular concern, Young said, was the prospect that divisions such as Acme might be acquired and then spun off - a scenario he described as "the worst thing" for local employees.
Young said formal contract talks with Supervalu, which began after Local 1776's contract expired in February, have halted since the company told shareholders in June it had launched a search for a potential buyer of the $36 billion corporation, which carries $6 billion in debt.
In a note to investors Thursday, analyst Jonathan Feeney with Janney Montgomery Scott described newly-installed CEO Wayne Sales' store-closing decision as an "opening salvo," and a "first act as turnaround chief." Sales had been board chairman before being named to replace Craig Herkert earlier this summer.
Feeney said that of all of Supervalu's vast holdings, he believed those with the greatest value are Acme, the Jewel-Osco supermarket chain in Chicago, and the company's wholesale food distribution division.
"It is unlikely that Supervalu, as it is currently comprised, can find a buyer," he wrote.
The 60 store closings - which includes 22 Save-A-Lot stores (none local) - were expected to generate $80 million to $90 million in cost savings over three years.
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