Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pathmark: The End of an Era

By: Rob Newell
Assistant to the President

As someone who began his career in the supermarket industry 25 years ago pushing carts part-time at the Pathmark in Bay Shore, it pains me to write this column.  Our members working in the Pathmark stores have faced almost everything a retail food worker could endure during their careers.  Obviously the most difficult times were realized shortly after the A&P takeover of Pathmark in 2007.  As you went to work every day you were forced to sit back and watch as the ever changing cast of A&P executives ran these once profitable stores into the ground.  Over the last few months everyone has done whatever they could to avoid the overwhelming feeling that you were just passing the days as you waited for the inevitable end to arrive.  By the time this column runs the Pathmark banner will have closed its final location, marking the end of a nearly 50-year old company.
  
Almost all of the remaining unsold Pathmark stores closed their doors on or before 11/23/15.   While the rest of the retail food industry was focused on maximizing its profits during the biggest sales season of the year your stores were being liquidated.  Even at the very end A&P’s decision makers failed miserably by missing one last business opportunity to finish with a few weeks of strong sales.  I know that many of you out there feel that it was yet another intentional slight toward you and your families.  One final insult from the inept, to have you all out of work before the holiday season started. 

At its high point the Pathmark Company employed more than 7,000 Local 1500 members in over 50 stores. The company made forays into liquor stores, drug stores, gas stations, trucking and warehousing, yet they are all gone today. There is no way to measure or to put in words the amount of pain and suffering that has been left behind in the wake of this company's demise.  It was corporate greed and mismanagement that brought the company where it is today, at the cost of its rank and file workers. 

When the final doors close there will be too many people left jobless, too many families searching for a way to rebuild and far too many unanswered questions.  Many of you dedicated your best working years to Pathmark, and in the end you were left at the mercy of a bankruptcy judge. This controlled liquidation could easily be compared to an economic hurricane for all of you.

A few of our members have taken to email, Facebook and/or other social media outlets to lash out, express their frustration and even to point fingers and blame for what has happened.  Although it is understandable that people are angry, some people’s expectations that the Union had the power to keep this Company in business are just unrealistic.  Some have even accused the Union of impropriety, for making the necessary Pension modifications to keep everyone’s pension safe after the stock market crash of 2008.  We knew then, as we do now, that any change to the Pension rules would cause difficulty for some members, but we also had an obligation to provide an opportunity for every member to collect his/her pension when they reach retirement age. 

Change is never easy to accept but a failure to change would have led to a catastrophic series of events that would have negatively impacted tens of thousands of our members.  Throughout its history Local 1500 and its leadership have never represented anything less than the whole truth to the membership in every representational situation regardless of the outcome or public opinion.  To simply post a few inflammatory points to incite drama or make people feel worse, while ignoring the truth and the entire story is not only shortsighted, it is useless.          
      
Over the last few months Local 1500 successfully negotiated acquisition agreements with Stop & Shop and King Kullen, and new contracts with Key Food for 16 of our former Pathmark
stores (as outlined by Secretary-Treasurer Tony Speelman this month).  A number of other stores were purchased by owners that have union contracts with other UFCW/RWDSU Local unions as well.  More than 2,000 of our former Pathmark members are currently working for Stop & Shop, King Kullen, Foodtown, ShopRite and Key Food. 

From the beginning of this bankruptcy process Local 1500 focused on three main goals 1. Keeping people working, 2. Finding union buyers for stores with no bidders and 3. Maximizing our member’s chances in bankruptcy court.  The Unions took that idea even further than ever imagined when we lobbied the judge to compel any non-union buyers to guarantee our members jobs, even without a Union contract.  Although we had hoped that all of your jobs would be protected, the judge stated on the record that before he would approve a sale to any non-union buyer, they would need to agree to offer a minimum of 25% of the jobs in these stores to former A&P employees.  Local 1500’s attorneys also successfully exposed an attempt to fraudulently circumvent the courts auction process for the Flatlands Avenue store and were instrumental in getting the bid awarded to Food Bazaar, a union operator.   
      

As Pathmark’s final days as a major supermarket operator have now passed us by we wanted to take another opportunity to say thank you to all of the Local 1500 members, both past and present, who worked for Pathmark.  We want to thank you for all your hard work, dedication & support for your customers, the company and your Union throughout your Pathmark careers.  Throughout the conclusion of the liquidation process and well into the future your Union will continue to work with you to help ease your transition in any way that we can.  Whether it be through hosting additional Resource Fairs, notifying you of upcoming hiring fairs and job openings, or influencing our other Union operators to hire from the Pathmark Bench (the pool of displaced members, please sign up on ufcw1500.org/pathmark). We're also trying to secure temporary seasonal employment opportunities available through our current employers. 

The uncertainty that the future holds for many of you is not something that we take lightly.  We anticipate that there will be many new battles for our current stores in 2016 and beyond and hope to staff all perspective actions and programs with our members. So please, make sure to fill out the displaced workers bench form on our website (ufcw1500.org/pathmark) with your information.  Having accurate information readily available will give us faster access to you as those needs arise. 

Thank you again for your service, dedication and allowing us to serve you. As a tribute to Pathmark members of the past and present, I’ve selected a few photos to honor where the company sits in our proud union’s history.

Thank you again. We are sincerely dedicated to make you as proud of us as we are of you.  ­

1 comment:

Edward Rodriguez said...

I've been a member of Local 1500 for close to 43 years. 5&1/4 years with Hills Supermarkets and the rest with Pathmark. I would like to thank all the business agents for your support. From John Ballerini, Ronda Nelson to Robert Ecker. And to the people in Medical, Dues, Pension and Legal Department thank you.

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