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Oct 9, 2015 3:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Waldbaum's Employees Are Seeking Help To Save Their Jobs

Maryann Whelan from Middle Island, who worked at the Westhampton Waldbaum's for 15 years, stood in front of the store on Friday to get signatures on a petition that she hopes will reverse a decision to award the bankrupt supermarket's location to the highest bidder, Best Market.
Oct 13, 2015 2:57 PM

Longtime Westhampton Beach Waldbaum’s employee Elizabeth Pugal stood in front of the Village Board last week and made a plea for help.

On Thursday, October 8, she asked the five board members to assist her—and her estimated 80 coworkers and fellow members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 342—in making an appeal to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain to reject Best Yet Market’s winning bid on the Sunset Avenue supermarket, because the Best Yet company does not employ unionized employees.

Instead, Ms. Pugal and her fellow union members are asking the judge for the Southern District of New York to accept the second-highest bid, which she said was made by New Jersey-based Kings Food Market. They are now circulating a petition outside the supermarket that they intend to present to the Bankruptcy Court by Friday.

Their plan is to collect 5,000 signatures before submitting the petition. As of earlier this week, they managed to collect approximately 2,300 signatures, and were continuing to solicit customers outside the store.

“I’m asking for the village to help with an appeal to the judge,” said Ms. Pugal, who has worked at the Westhampton Beach Waldbaum’s for the past 35 years, during last week’s plea.

Last week, representatives of Best Yet Market, which is based in Bethpage and currently operates 20 supermarkets in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, confirmed they were the winning bidder in bankruptcy proceedings. They have declined to share any additional details, including the winning bid for the Sunset Avenue store that, for now, remains part of the bankrupt Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in New Jersey.

But Westhampton Beach Village Attorney Anthony C. Pasca informed Ms. Pugal, who brought nearly a dozen people with her to Village Hall last week, that the village has no say in such matters. “It would be improper for the village trustees to intervene, and the village is powerless in this situation,” he said.

“We are the five people who can do the least,” Village Trustee Brian Tymann said.

“At the least, we can sign the petition, because it’s where we live and shop,” offered fellow Village Trustee Rob Rubio.

The Westhampton Beach Waldbaum’s employees are worried that they will lose their jobs should Best Yet Market complete its acquisition of the supermarket, explained Kelly Egan, the director of Mineola-based UFCW Local 342 who was in Westhampton Beach on Friday to support the workers.

Unlike the winning bidder, Kings Food Market, whose closest location is in Garden City, is a union-friendly supermarket chain, according to Ms. Egan. “We’d love to see Best Market get unionized, but at the moment they aren’t,” she said. “We’ve tried contacting them multiple times over the past two weeks, but nobody has returned any of our calls.”

Officials with Best Yet Market have not returned multiple calls and emails over the past week seeking additional information about its pending acquisition. As of earlier this week, the Waldbaum’s was still open for business.

Ms. Egan also noted that the A&P bankruptcy filings have affected an estimated 30,000 union employees in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Those workers are also employed by Food Emporium, Pathmark, Food Basics and A&P supermarkets, all of which were owned by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.

“Right now, there are a total of 25 stores closing, and six are on Long Island,” Ms. Egan said. “Those stores are Westhampton, Riverhead, Baldwin, Oceanside, Carle Place and Centereach.”

Longtime employees of the Westhampton Beach Waldbaum’s, meanwhile, said they are fearful of what lies ahead for them.

Maureen Demchuck of Mattituck, who has been employed at the village supermarket for the past 41 years, said she and her coworkers have no idea what the future holds for them. Ms. Demchuck, who is now the store’s florist, said she stands to lose not only her main source of income but also her health insurance, and possibly her pension.

“Pensions are typically guaranteed, so they shouldn’t lose those,” Ms. Egan said this week. “Going forward, though, there won’t be any more contributions to the pension, and they will lose other benefits, like health care, if Best Yet comes in.”

Ms. Demchuck said she will also miss her job and the people she has gotten to know over the past four decades. “The thing I’m going to miss the most is the people,” she said. “I love the people. I know a lot of them by name and, if not by name, I know them by face.”

Frequent shopper Verna Merkel of Quogue said Friday that she is also concerned about the fate of the supermarket’s employees. “Once summer is done, it’s just the residents and the people that work here,” she said. “It’s nice to shop where someone knows your name.”

The union and employees have until Friday, October 16, to submit their petitions as part of an appeal process. If the ruling is not overturned, Ms. Egan said that the union will help the displaced employees find work at other supermarkets.

“We’ll do our best to employ the employees,” Ms. Egan said. “The best thing we can do right now is put these signatures in front of Judge Drain, and continue to petition anywhere Best Yet is looking to move into.”

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Typical union mentality, when it backfires and no one has a job they still won't be able to figure it out.
By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on Oct 9, 15 3:54 PM
I guess you did not see the story about the 3 top management guys paying themselves $12 MILLION the week before bankrupcy was declared.
By tenn tom (255), remsenburg on Oct 10, 15 7:28 AM
3 members liked this comment
That would be a completely separate but valid issue. Perhaps the bankruptcy court will claw some of that back to pay off creditors but don't hold your breath. In my opinion the real issue here is the disappearing pensions. In too many instances employees put in years towards a pension and the company closes or their position is eliminated and their pension magically disappears with it. While I am not in favor of big government, this is one area where the feds need to step up. Earned, contributed ...more
By bird (824), Sag Harbor on Oct 10, 15 9:09 AM
Don't forget, you're talking about union employees. Their pensions are with the unions, not the private companies and are guaranteed by the PBGC, a government entity.

By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on Oct 10, 15 10:13 AM
3 members liked this comment
Not completely true. Consider this scenario: By contract, an employee has to put in 25 years to collect their pension. At 18 years the company goes belly up. Or at 24 years the company simply eliminates the position. In both scenarios the employee ends up with no job and no pension. Both have happened to members of my family. The best example of this might be Enron. By contract the pension funds were held in Enron stock. When the company vaporized, so did the pensions. To add insult to injury, and ...more
By bird (824), Sag Harbor on Oct 10, 15 3:51 PM
So? That's the seller not the buyer. What are we, a socialist country? This is supposed to be free market capitalism.The unions priced themselves out of work. By the way, where is their union? Why aren't they doing this? Why were they abandoned by their union. They are the ones who are driving away with all the union dues. Don't blame the owners, blame the unions. That's where the real greed lay.
By Babyboo (292), Hampton Bays on Oct 11, 15 7:36 AM
2 members liked this comment
Boo - I'm trying to follow your comment. Are you saying it's the employee's fault when their pensions are stolen?
By bird (824), Sag Harbor on Oct 11, 15 7:53 PM
Companies sell off off employee pensions all the time... Company big guys go out with the Golden Parachute and on to another company
By knitter (1893), Southampton on Oct 10, 15 4:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
Kings Food Market kingsfoodmarkets.com is a high end grocer, which is a better fit for the Westhampton area than Best Yet.

No matter how one feels about the union, we can all agree that we want Kings!

By susgeek (41), Speonk on Oct 14, 15 8:29 PM
I am looking forward to not paying the rich zipcode premium on my groceries when Best moves in.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Oct 16, 15 11:37 AM
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