Jewel-Osco workers have yet to see a raise negotiated in December

The grocery chain acknowledged it’s having problems implementing a contract negotiated with Local 1546 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

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The Jewel-Osco store at 424 W Division St.

About 4,000 Jewel Osco workers who agreed to a raise in December have yet to see it in their paychecks.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Jewel-Osco has a unique problem in labor-management relations. Both sides agree that some workers are entitled to a raise that is weeks overdue, and the company has yet to pay it.

“I got a letter in the mail Monday, something about a computer error,” said Marilyn Johnson, a 21-year employee. “We’ve been waiting on retroactive pay and on raises, but there’s been nothing.”

The problem affects 4,000 workers in the deli, seafood and meat departments at Chicago-area Jewel stores, said Local 1546 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. In December, the local and Jewel agreed to a three-year contract with raises retroactive to August 2021.

No increases have been forthcoming and some employees have gotten unexplained pay cuts of $2 to $3 per hour, said Jeff Weiss, special assistant at the local.

“The company has been calling it payroll errors. It’s just incompetence,” he said. “We made this agreement three months ago. How long can it take to fix a payroll problem?”

Weiss said the local represents workers at 182 Jewels in the Chicago area, including Northwest Indiana.

Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco acknowledged the glitch in a brief statement. “Making sure our hardworking UFCW Local 1546 associates receive the money that is owed to them is of the utmost importance to us. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” she said.

She did not answer a question about the pay reductions, which Weiss estimated affects at least a third of the local’s employees at Jewel.

The local, following terms of its contract, has filed a grievance with Jewel covering all 4,000 members. Weiss said job actions will be considered if the company can’t fix the problem.

In a YouTube message for Jewel members, Local 1546 President Robert O’Toole called the payroll issues “inexcusable and insulting.” He said the contract ratified in December provides workers with some of the largest pay raises in recent years.

Weiss said workers are due to get annual increases of 55 cents to 70 cents per hour for each of the contract’s three years.

Johnson, a part-time deli clerk at the store at 424 W. Division St., said workers are eager to see the money. “It’s kind of hard to make ends meet” with the higher costs of groceries and gas, she said.

She said the employees fulfilled their duties as “essential workers” throughout the pandemic. But from the company, “there’s nothing to show that you’re appreciated.”

Jewel is part of the Albertsons nationwide conglomerate of regional grocery chains. With a large ownership stake from Cerberus Capital Management, Albertsons in February announced a “strategic review” of its business, indicating all or pieces of it could be sold.

Albertsons’ stock price has nearly doubled in the last year amid improving results and takeover speculation. For its most recent quarter, it reported an 18% increase in adjusted net income compared with the same period the previous year.

“A favorable economic backdrop together with the heroic performance of our frontline retail, distribution and manufacturing teams contributed to these better-than-expected results,” CEO Vivek Sankaran said in the earnings announcement.

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