Wholesale grocery center to lay off 369

Halethorpe facility to close next month

March 11, 2006|By HANAH CHO | HANAH CHO,SUN REPORTER

Three hundred sixty-nine employees of a grocery distribution center in Baltimore County will lose their jobs when the operation closes at the end of next month.

Ocean Logistics LLC, a subsidiary of C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. of Keene, N.H., said yesterday that it has negotiated a shutdown package with three union locals representing 311 workers at the Halethorpe facility.

Union-represented employees will receive severance pay, health care benefits and transitional services provided by state and local officials. The company said its 58 nonunion employees also will receive a severance package.

"It's really tough," said Sean Cedenio, secretary/treasurer of the Teamsters union Local 570, which represents 260 workers there.

"This whole week has been troubling and a lot of anxiety among employees and here at the union," Cedenio said.

The company is closing the distribution center because it does not operate as efficiently as its other facilities, said Carl Wistreich, a senior vice president of C&S Wholesale Grocers.

Once Ocean Logistics stops shipping from the Halethorpe center about April 2, work will be transferred to other locations, including one in Maryland.

C&S Wholesale operates three other distribution centers in the state - one in Aberdeen, another in North East and a third in Upper Marlboro. Wistreich could not say which facility would receive part of Halethorpe's work.

The Halethorpe center, which serves Super Fresh stores in Maryland and surrounding states, will close by April 28. C&S, a family-owned company, acquired the facility as part of a larger transaction with A&P last summer.

"In our business where margins are calculated on the pennies and not dollars, we are forced to consider every alternative that will assist us in remaining competitive," Wistreich said.

For the past week, officials of Teamsters Locals 570 and 355 and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 tried to persuade the company to keep the distribution center open. Local 355 represents 16 workers, mostly mechanics, while the UFCW local represents 35 employees.

The unions received a letter last week that the company could shut down the warehouse and lay off all employees. Talks to save the facility overtook what was supposed to be negotiations over new contracts. The existing contracts expire April 2.

When union officials could not persuade the company to keep operating the Halethorpe facility, negotiations turned to severance packages.

Glenn Smith, an attorney at Littler Mendelson PC representing Ocean Logistics, said the company is offering separation pay and benefits to union-represented workers that go beyond what is required under existing contracts.

Cedenio, of Teamsters Local 570, said the company told the union that it would cost at least $4.7 million to modernize the facility. And employees would have had to take cuts of $15 an hour in compensation - wages, plus benefits - to equal the savings Ocean Logistics would get from closing the facility, Cedenio said.

Wages for Teamsters Local 570 members range from $12 to $17.90 an hour, depending on seniority, said Richard Brown, vice president of the local.

Brown, who worked at the Halethorpe facility for 10 years before becoming a full-time union officer, said employees were shocked and confused when they first heard of a possible shutdown last week.

Brown heard more questions and anxiety among his former colleagues when he stopped by the distribution center yesterday to drop off more information about their severance packages.

"A great deal of people are already beginning to look at other opportunities and options," Brown said. "They are looking for other jobs. We are doing everything we can."

Jeff Metzger, publisher of the trade journal Food World, said the Halethorpe facility "is by any standards antiquated and inefficient."

"To me, it's a business decision," he said.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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