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Jewel distribution workers’ union says time is short to avert strike

Teamsters Local 710 cited little progress in bargaining on behalf of 850 workers at Melrose Park distribution hub. Its contract expires Saturday.

A Jewel Osco truck is parked near the company’s distribution center in Melrose Park on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
Teamsters Local 710 represents 850 warehouse workers and delivery drivers for Jewel Osco. The union’s contract expires Saturday night.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The union representing warehouse workers and drivers at Jewel-Osco is warning of a potential strike affecting deliveries to the area’s largest grocery chain.

Teamster Local 710 said bargaining this week has produced few results. The union, representing 850 workers at Jewel’s Melrose Park distribution hub, has a contract that expires at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

In a statement circulated to members late Wednesday, Mike Cales, secretary-treasurer of Local 710, said Jewel has not addressed core issues such as staffing levels, health care contributions and starting pay for new hires. The union has said starting pay should be increased to attract workers and address what it calls understaffing that affects worker safety.

Jewel has been requiring six-day workweeks in Melrose Park, the union said. Grocery stores have seen increased demand as the pandemic has led people to eat at home.

“At the rate we’re going — 13 times sitting down with the employer with no progress — I’m not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel at this time that doesn’t involve some kind of action from the membership and the local,” Cales said. “This employer needs to make some serious movement on our core issues, and fast.”

A union source said a bargaining session is scheduled Friday.

Jewel, a unit of Albertsons Cos., had no immediate comment. On Tuesday, spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said, “Jewel is negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement that rewards our hard-working employees, is fair, and allows the company to continue to grow.”

The Melrose Park workers voted overwhelmingly Feb. 19 to authorize a strike. Local 710 said 578 members voted on the matter, with nearly 98% supporting the strike.

The union said mandatory six-day workweeks have caused dangerous overcrowding at the warehouse, resulting in some employees contracting COVID-19. It said the company has threatened workers with discipline if they take time off for vaccine appointments.

Local 710 said Jewel discontinued hazard pay for workers in July.