A union effort is underway to organize Price Chopper stores, some of whose hourly employees were represented by United Food and Commercial Workers when they worked in P&C stores.
"We've had a lot of calls from Price Chopper employees over the last six months," said Gregory P. Gorea, executive assistant to the president of UFCW. "We're going to all of the stores to gauge interest. This is not temporary."
Neil M. Golub, president and chief executive officer of Golub Corporation, the owner of Price Chopper, intends to keep his company unfettered by a union.
"We've been a union-free company for all the years we've been in existence," he said. "We are a family in business. We treat our people as team-mates. Most of the people have very warm feelings for the company."
As part of Penn Traffic's bankruptcy, Price Chopper, a subsidiary of Schnectady-based Golub Corp., bid for 22 Penn Traffic stores, including those in Canton, Potsdam, Massena and Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County as well as operations in Pulaski, West Carthage and Lowville.
They were beaten out by Tops Markets, which took over 79 stores.
Tops, which is unionized, tried to find another unionized company to buy its P&C stores in the north country but eventually sold its Canton, Potsdam, Massena, Gouverneur, West Carthage and Lincoln, N.H. stores to Price Chopper.
Golub Corp. is not taking the union organizing effort lightly. Mr. Golub is of the mind that unions have three objectives.
"They want money from our employees and team-mates," he said. "The second objective is to disrupt the business. It's the way they operate. The third thing they do is use a lot of their money to finance political campaigns."
Mr. Gorea scoffed at the idea that his union is organizing to replace members and dues it has lost.
"Five hundred people lost guaranteed hours, guaranteed health care, pensions and seniority for the Neil Golub way of doing things," he said. "Why would Neil Golub care what the union dues are? Obviously, our members think the dues are worth it."
A memo from Mr. Golub is being distributed to Price Chopper associates in all of its 128 stores.
The memo, which warns associates that belonging to a union is not in their best interest, is a fear tactic to keep employees from talking to them, Mr. Gorea said. However, the union recognizes that there is nothing illegal about Mr. Golub's communication.
"They can give their opinion," Mr. Gorea said.
He disputed that organizers are interfering with Price Chopper's operations.
"We're not trying to interrupt their business. We haven't said one thing to one customer," Mr. Gorea said. "We're talking to people in parking lots and coffee shops."
Just having to deal with the prospect of a union is disruptive, Mr. Golub said, because it forces the company to lose its focus of taking care of customers.
"The guys on the other side of this, they're not interested in keeping a business healthy," he said.
Organizers have another beef with Golub Corp.
Mr. Gorea said few of his union's former members were hired by Price Chopper from the P&C stores despite assurances that they would all have a chance at employment.
"They were all experienced and they didn't hire many of them," Mr. Gorea said. "You can't discriminate because you're union. We could file unfair labor charges but we're not going to bother. We're going to organize."
Price Chopper has done its part in bringing and keeping jobs, Mr. Golub said.
"We've actually hired a lot more people than when they were P&C," he said. "We hired the people we needed for the stores. We promoted a lot of people from Price Chopper. We wanted to make sure we had the right management for our stores."
Mr. Gorea said union dues are a small price for negotiated benefits. He compared average dues of $8 per week for a part-time employee to the $40 to $60 per week cost to buy into the Golub health insurance plan.
"When they were P&Cs, they didn't pay anything for health insurance," Mr. Gorea said. "What would you rather pay?"
Mr. Golub defended his company's benefit package.
"Fifty-one percent of our stock is owned by our team-mates. You can truly say this is an employee-owned company where they benefit from its growth," Mr. Golub said. "We have a wonderful health insurance program. We're one of the leaders in the business community for trying to keep our members healthy."
Most people who are not in a union know benefits are better if they are represented, but it's other factors that propels them toward UFCW, Mr. Gorea said.
"The thing is, it's the way they're being treated," he said. "In a union shop, everything is in a contract."
Union demands are what brought P&C to its knees, Mr. Golub said.
"They're out of business. What does that tell you?" he said. "Our business carries on. While P&C went down the tubes, Price Chopper is growing."
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