Amy Lynn Schereck
Tim Metcalfe: 'Labor negotiations are always challenging, and we always feel they're best addressed at the bargaining table.'
Metcalfe's Market, the family-owned grocery chain known for its sustainability practices and local products, is in the midst of a union battle after it increased meat department workers' health insurance premiums.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1473, filed charges against Metcalfe Inc. with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board citing "unfair labor practices" on June 22. The charge is still pending.
An attachment to the charge states that Metcalfe announced an impasse in negotiations and unilaterally increased health insurance premiums. Mark Sweet, the attorney representing UFCW Local 1473, says the meat employees used to enjoy "low premium and high benefit health insurance."
"There was a long history of providing family-sustaining healthcare benefits that families can afford," Sweet says.
Metcalfe's Market president Tim Metcalfe says the company is proud of the relationship it's built with employees and the UFCW over the years. But in a market with rising costs, he says it's necessary for employees to pay for the benefit.
"The employees are not paying anything toward their health insurance," Metcalfe says. He also notes that the union has negotiated increased-premium contracts with Metcalfe Market's competitors.
Metcalfe Inc. and UFCW Local 1473 engaged in five negotiation sessions before Metcalfe made the decision to raise health insurance premiums 600%, a "staggering" difference, Sweet says.
The union contract expired on March 24. Sweet says there were numerous issues on the bargaining table. Robert Mulcahy of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP is representing Metcalfe.
The meat workers are the only unionized employees at Metcalfe's.
"That's the way it's been forever," Metcalfe says. "As long as we've owned the store. Management doesn't make that decision [about unionizing], it's the employees who decide."