Unions representing workers at Tops Markets reacted cautiously to the company's planned merger with Price Chopper, a nonunion chain.
The deal will create a supermarket chain with nearly 300 stores that will stretch across upstate New York and into New England.
UFCW Local One represents 10,000 Tops workers in upstate New York. Frank DeRiso, the union's president, said he is keeping a close eye on what the merger will mean for the union's members.
"Tops is a union company, Price Chopper is a completely nonunion company," he said. "There's different philosophies of how to operate there. Are we concerned about it? Yes, we're very concerned about it."
In light of its new merger, take a look back at Tops Markets' history.
DeRiso said his concern is if the merger turns into a takeover of Tops by Price Chopper. If that happens, he said, "now we're dealing with a nonunion company who doesn't have the same ideals of operating a company as Tops might have for their employees."
"Certainly we're doing everything on our end, on our legal side to start preparing in the event there's going to be a change in operations that's going to be detrimental to the lives of our members," DeRiso said.
UFCW's contract with Tops for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse has about two years remaining, DeRiso said. The union's contract with Tops in the Adirondacks region expires this summer.
"We'll get a good feel for what's going to happen at that point in time," he said. "When these companies talk merger, let's face it, they're talking about cost savings. And their No. 1 cost saving is always in labor."
"Our concern is going to be that they don't try to eliminate union jobs and replace them with nonunion jobs," DeRiso said.
UFCW One has tried unsuccessfully over the years to organize operations at Price Chopper, including at a warehouse and at stores. "Certainly that's not going to stop – in fact, it might make it easier for us," DeRiso said.
DeRiso said the union's relationship with Tops has been "bumpy" at times, marked by Tops' bankruptcy filing and ownership changes.
"But because they're union, we've had that ability to be at the table and fight with them," he said. "That's the key, that's the difference between the two companies."
Teamsters 264 represents 600 warehouse and transportation workers at Tops' warehouse in Lancaster.
Brian Dickman, the local's president and principal executive officer, said he was still gathering details about the merger, but said a Tops official offered him reassurance about the deal.
"They told us that there would be no effect to the contract or to the workforce," he said.
Local 264's contract with Tops has another four years remaining, he said. "I'd be more concerned if we were up this year."
But Dickman also said it was too soon to assess what the merger might mean for members. "I don't know that I'm overly concerned or overly confident in either way at this point."