More than a month after the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery locations were closed in the San Souci shopping center in California and in Waldorf, the union that represents Shoppers workers announced a severance package in a press release Thursday for the recently laid-off employees.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 announced a deal reached with parent company United Natural Foods Inc. to address the fates of former employees. The deal provides the opportunity to either transfer to one of the remaining stores still open or accept a severance package that includes “separation pay commensurate with years of service, holidays and vacation time paid out and four months of continuing health care coverage,” per the press release.
UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici said that the package highlights the importance of a unionized workplace.
“When this company closed retailers elsewhere in the country, the employees were left out in the cold with nothing,” Federici said. “Thankfully, we were able to intervene in this case and ensure our members would be compensated through this transition.”
Federici expressed his frustration with UNFI over its handling of the closures, saying that union members were ignored by the company for more than a year, all the while asking for information on the fate of the stores.
“This is not how a responsible employer treats its employees,” Federici said. “That is why we are now turning our attention to the Maryland legislature, where we are undertaking efforts with leadership in both chambers to ensure that employers are held accountable when they choose to layoff large numbers of hardworking employees.”
The store closings were announced by UNFI on Dec. 6 and took place Dec. 18. The two local stores were sold to McKay’s Food and Pharmacy and were two of 13 stores sold to other grocers in the Maryland and Virginia area, with grocers such as Lidl and Compare Foods purchasing the other locations. UFCW Local 400 announced in a separate press release that the process of a severance package could have begun over a year ago when the sales of the stores were first announced, but UNFI did not provide them with any details.
“It wasn’t until after UNFI had already publicly announced the first round of store closures that the company was willing to sit down with us to determine how our hard-working members would be compensated through this transition,” the release stated. Per the first release, Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s) plans to establish a legislative effort within the Maryland General Assembly that would require employers to give ample notice of impending layoffs and support for workers though job training and placement.
“Maryland provides employers with comprehensive guidelines on how to responsibly divest from our community. Unfortunately, all too often those guidelines are ignored and Maryland workers are left out in the cold,” Davis said. “I believe now is the time for us to revisit those guidelines and require employers to take commonsense steps to ensure their employees are taken care of in the event of massive workforce reductions.”
Requests for comments from UNFI representatives were not returned by press time. Employees affected are encouraged to attend one of several meetings being held by UFCW Local 400 this week throughout the remaining Southern Maryland and Virginia Shoppers locations and at the Local 400 headquarters in Landover.