Union: We'll work with Albertsons

dstaats@idahostatesman.comMarch 13, 2014 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has adopted a more positive tone about Albertsons’ takeover of Safeway than one of its northern California local’s leaders did after the merger was announced.

A spokesman for the union’s Local 5 told the San Jose Mercury News that he fears Cerberus Capital Management, the primary owner of Albertsons and the engineer of Albertsons’ planned merger with Safeway, could repeat what it did in 2006, when Cerberus closed about three dozen Albertsons stores in northern California a few days after buying them. The Idaho Statesman published the Mercury News story Tuesday.

But the food workers’ international president says the union has a good relationship with Cerberus and will cooperate with it.

Albertsons says it has no plans to close Safeway stores in northern California or anywhere else, though it may divest some stores to fend off federal antitrust action.

An Albertsons executive told the Idaho Statesman that the 2006 closures in northern California were needed to “stop the bleeding” that Boise’s Albertsons Inc. had allowed before Cerberus bought 661 of Albertsons Inc.’s stores in weak geographic divisions as part of the Albertsons Inc. breakup. Supervalu bought 569 stores in stronger divisions, including all the stores in Idaho, but it struggled anyway and closed and sold some stores, finally selling what it had left to Cerberus last year.

The Northern California stores were among 125 stores that Cerberus didn’t think it could save and closed immediately. Albertsons no longer operates any stores in northern California — not just because it closed the weak stores, but because a regional competitor, Save Mart Supermarkets, bought the 128 stores Cerberus kept open in northern California and northern Nevada in 2007, said Andrew J. Scoggin, executive vice president of human resources and public affairs for Cerberus’s Albertsons LLC unit in Boise.

When Save Mart sought the stores, Albertsons CEO Bob Miller insisted that Save Mart hire all of the stores’ employees — a demand the Albertsons board and Save Mart accepted, Scoggin said.

The stores “are operating to this day, seven years later,” Scoggin said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said it represents “tens of thousands” of workers in Albertsons and Safeway stores.

“Through ups and downs, the UFCW has maintained good relationships with both Safeway and Cerberus,” said Joe Hansen, the union’s president, in a statement. “The UFCW will work closely with Safeway and Cerberus through the acquisition process and beyond so that these major supermarket companies can maintain strong market share and that our members can continue to serve customers and their communities.”

Safeway is a larger chain than Albertsons. The merger, announced March 6, will create the nation’s second-largest grocery company, after Kroger, although the two companies combined still wouldn’t sell as many groceries as Wal-Mart Inc.

The $9 billion deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

David Staats: 377-6417, @IDS_DavidStaats

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