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SuperValu set to close Milton warehouse, 90 jobs

MILTON, W.Va. -- About 90 warehouse workers in the Milton area may lose their jobs in April.

SuperValu Inc., the company that provides groceries and products to Save-A-Lot grocery stores, notified members of Teamsters Local 175 last Monday that it plans to close its warehouse in Milton sometime in April.

In a Jan. 17 letter to members of the House of Delegates, Ken Hall, president of Local 175, wrote, "The closing will result in the loss of nearly 100 good-paying West Virginia jobs, of which 60 are covered by a Teamster contract.

"The wage rates range from $17 to a little over $21 per hour, in addition to health care and pension benefits," wrote Hall, who is also international secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters.

Contacted Saturday afternoon, Luke Friedrich, a spokesman for SuperValu at its corporate headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn., said, "Decisions like this are never easy and are not a reflection of the work or contributions of the team at the Milton distribution center.

"This is a business change that is necessary to ensure our company is better positioned for long-term success," Friedrich said.

"My first concern," Hall wrote in his letter, "obviously is for the devastating effect on the workers and their families.

"The average age of the unionized workforce is 57 years old with an average of 30 years of service with the company. The closing is also a significant blow to the local economy as well as to the state of West Virginia," Hall wrote.

SuperValu has indicated it plans to move the majority of the work now done at the Milton warehouse to another warehouse located in New Stanton, Pa., outside Pittsburgh.

"I do not believe this was a well thought-out plan," Hall continued. "The Milton warehouse has historically been recognized as an efficient operation.

"I believe that with the cooperation of our local, county, state and federal government leaders that it is indeed possible to persuade SuperValu to reverse their decision," Hall wrote.

SuperValu, in its official announcement last Monday, stated that it "plans to consolidate its Milton distribution center business into its New Stanton/Pittsburgh distribution center. SuperValu regularly reviews its business in order to maximize efficiency."

The company said that the consolidation, which will close the Milton facility, will be completed by the end of April.

"As a result of excess capacity within the over 771,000-square-foot New Stanton/Pittsburgh facility, SuperValu is able to effectively consolidate these two operations and better position the company for future growth of its distribution business in the region.

"The decision will not impact any Supervalu independent retail customers, and the company remains fully committed to continue serving its affiliated independent retailers throughout the region moving forward," the company's announcement stated.

The company added that the closure will impact "approximately 90 employees. SuperValu will work with the impacted employees and their union representatives to discuss the details of a consolidation and ensure a smooth transition."

On Saturday, Teamsters Local 175 began circulating a petition asking SuperValu "to immediately reconsider its decision .... The company says the Milton warehouse is still profitable and its stock is up 80 percent. Then why are they moving good-paying jobs with benefits out of state and exposing groceries and produce to longer travel times?"

Local 175 will circulate a second petition that can be signed by local owners of Save-A-Lot stores asking SuperValue to reconsider its decision.

A similar situation developed in early 1999, when Rite Aid announced it was closing its warehouse in Poca, which provided about 500 jobs to warehouse workers and truck drivers.

Rite Aid announced it would move those jobs to its operations in Perryman, Md., in June 2000, when the Teamsters contract with Rite Aid in Poca expired.

After 10 months of discussions and negotiations, Local 175 members approved a new contract with Rite Aid, which included compromises by both sides, by an overwhelming margin on Feb. 27, 2000.

Efforts to save those jobs in Poca were supported by a wide range of political leaders, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., then Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., and then Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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