The news Wednesday that their employer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection didn’t surprise three workers at a Spanaway Haggen grocery that is currently hosting a liquidation sale.
They aren’t sure when the store will close. They aren’t sure of many things.
They felt the cold winds blow months ago, they said, soon after Haggen purchased nearly 150 stores that were forced to close following the merger of Albertsons and Safeway and the forced divestment of properties in several Western states.
Their store had been a successful Safeway outlet, and together the three could count more than 50 years of service.
Megan Smith, 24 years; Elijah Ellis, five years; Chris Brown, 25 years.
“It’s really discouraging,” Smith said Wednesday afternoon in the Haggen parking lot.
“You don’t want to go home to your kids and have them stressed out,” said Brown. “When the first news came, we reassured them.”
Dad still had a good job. The new company had money and good ideas. Everything would be fine.
Just as Brown reassured his children, so was he assured.
Today, the future is confusing and unsure.
If they stay with Haggen, they will be able to maintain their benefits. But how many Haggen stores will survive the bankruptcy? How many more will close?
The company has not announced further closures following the bankruptcy.
And should current Haggen employees seek employment with Albertsons or Safeway — well, they won’t even bother, they said. Other Haggen employees have tried, and failed, and even if they were hired, Smith said, they could lose accrued vacation, seniority and perhaps other benefits.
They have been told that Safeway and Albertsons will not accept applications because of contract language in the sale agreement with Haggen.
“We were told we had a year before we could apply,” Smith said.
“If they were not laid off, they have one year before they can apply,” said Nathe Lawver, communications director for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 367, which represents grocery workers in the South Sound.
Spokesmen for Haggen and Safeway were not available for comment Wednesday afternoon. Haggen recently filed suit against Safeway and Albertsons over the sale of stores, and vice versa.
Last week, Safeway spokeswoman Sara Osborne told The News Tribune: “Under the terms of the (Federal Trade Commission) consent decree and the asset sale agreement, we can consider rehiring employees after Haggen has laid them off, either during the normal course of business or following a store closure.”
“I have zero stability,” Smith said. “I don’t have an option to go back to Safeway.”
They could stay with Haggen, accepting reassignment to another store. They have not been laid off.
“What’s the next store to close?” Smith asks. “We don’t know. We can speculate. They’re supposed to place us in another Haggen store. They’re hoping to place everyone. Do you stick with Haggen, or do you go back to Safeway? That is the dilemma.”
Said Ellis: “It really wasn’t in our control. We were just along for the ride.”
Said Smith: “We were all hopeful in the beginning. When I get sold into this great idea — now what do you do? We’re just trying to get through the jumbled mess. I would like to be told what I can and cannot do.”
Said Ellis: “A lot of us are in the dark. Each day we’re waiting for something new.”
Said Brown: “I worked at Safeway for nearly 25 years. That’s why I stayed. It was good. I want to go back, but why should I be penalized, losing my vacation, my sick pay and seniority? We could possibly get the same wages, but it would be a completely fresh start.”
Said Smith: “We just need something solid. Now my hope is gone. I just want to know that someone is fighting for me.”
Said Ellis: “It’s like having a rug pulled out from under us.”
Said Brandon Bennett, UFCW union representative: “So this is where 25 years of loyalty gets you.”
“Safeway should step up and make it right,” he said. “These people are being treated like the equipment — just another asset. I want the companies to step up.”
All 56 current employees at the Spanaway store were formerly employed by Safeway.
And they’re not alone.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more stores close,” Bennett said. “It’s been a rough few weeks.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535