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New York’s largest grocery union blasts Wegmans in website letter

When Wegmans announced it would open its first New York City store on the Brooklyn Naval Yard, everyone seemed to rejoice.

The announcement went viral on social media, set Facebook abuzz and sent Wegmans trending on Twitter in New York City.

But the union trying to organize the store’s workers is not happy.

The Union Food and Commercial Workers, the largest grocery workers union in the state, has launched a campaign against the Rochester-based grocer’s arrival. The union’s website, GoodJobsBrooklyn.com, urges residents to send form letters to city officials.

“Wegmans has a history of making empty promises. They promise fair pay and benefits, but the reality has shown the opposite,” the letter reads. “Wegmans has repeatedly closed inner-city stores, has violated workplace safety violations, and has recently taken away health insurance for part-time employees.

The letter also says that a collective bargaining agreement is “the only way to ensure that Wegmans treats its employees well, pays them fair wages, and provides critical benefits such as health insurance and reliable work schedules.”

The accusations seemed uncharacteristic for a company that has been placed on a pedestal by consumer groups and considered an exemplary employer across the grocery and retail industry. It has ranked at or near the top of Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for nearly two decades.

“There is not a kernel of truth in what UFCW Local 1500 has said,” Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokeswoman said. “We are proud of our pay and benefits, our work environment, and the growth opportunities at Wegmans, and we work hard every day to make sure we are a great place to work and a great place to shop.”

In 2013, Wegmans changed its health insurance eligibility requirements so that employees had to work at least 30 hours a week to qualify for company subsidized health insurance.

The company has closed two inner-city stores in Syracuse and Rochester in the past.

UFCW representatives did not return requests for comment.

Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. was looking for a grocer to anchor the development. Wegmans’ plans for the Navy Yard site were approved ahead of other proposals because its food is wholesome and affordable, it promises to hire locally, and its plan would create more jobs than any of the other applicants, according to the nonprofit BNYDC. Wegmans will initially hire 450 people, 150 of them full-time workers.

The total number of jobs is expected to grow to 600 – as many as 250 of them full time. That’s twice the overall number of hires and more than three times the number of full-time positions proposed by other applicants.

Wegmans’ first round of hiring will focus exclusively on residents from the three nearby housing projects, CEO Danny Wegman said.

The company will spend more than $2 million to recruit and train its workforce, he said.

Wegmans was also cited by BNYDC for its good wages, paid leave, company-funded retirement plans and opportunities for education and career advancement.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Wegmans changed its health insurance eligibility to cover only full-time employees.