National Workers to Get Equal Pay Union Officials Outline Results of Talks with Schnucks

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Employees of soon-to-be-shuttered National Super Markets Inc. stores got mixed news Sunday about their pay and other job conditions if hired by Schnucks.

At morning and evening meetings, officials with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 outlined the results of negotiations with Schnuck Markets Inc. Schnucks says it will hire at least half of the National workers when it completes plans to buy 57 National supermarkets in the St. Louis area in May.

"I'm impressed with what I heard," said Ron Field, a stock clerk at the Sierra Vista store in north St. Louis County.

Field said he liked that National workers hired by Schnucks stood a good chance of keeping their rate of pay, their hours and health and welfare benefits.

Field was one of about 350 union members who attended the evening meeting at Carpenters' Hall, 1401 Hampton Avenue.

Kevin Koch, 30, was one of about 500 workers at the morning meeting.

"Most people were pleasantly surprised about what it looks like at the start," Koch said. "The big question is, how secure is that job?"

Local 655 President Nick Torpea was among union officials who met for eight days of informal discussions with Schnucks chairman Craig Schnuck and other officials.

"All in all, it's a decent package . . . considering where we came from," Torpea said Sunday.

Schnucks was under no legal requirement to offer equal pay and benefits, he said. He called Schnucks "reasonable and fair."

But, Torpea said, "I can still understand why members would be upset. I would be."

Employees leaving the meetings said they were pleased that most would retain their current rate of pay and health benefits if hired by Schnucks. But some said they were worried whether Schnucks would hire them.

They also expressed concern that the pay protection did not extend to four stores - in De Soto, Washington, Eureka and Festus - and that a proposed agreement on severance pay might contain a loophole.

Mark Ferrell, a clerk at the National store in Festus, said, "It's upsetting that they are treating the outlying stores different because they have to compete with Wal-Mart."

Ferrell formerly worked as a bagger for Kroger, until the chain left the St. Louis area eight years ago.

"I'm hoping this is the last time I have to go through this," he said.

National could start laying off some of its 6,000 employees as early as May 15, according to notices received last week by some union leaders and employees. About 3,300 National checkers, baggers and other employees are members of Local 655.

The chain plans to close all of its stores and other facilities if the Federal Trade Commission approves Schnucks' plan to buy the 57 National supermarkets. …