Forty-five workers, or 2.3 percent of Acme Fresh Market’s staff, have been given layoff notices, effective at the end of this week.
On Thursday, Acme attorney Frank Buck confirmed that the layoffs, which he said were attributable to current business conditions, were occurring across the Akron-based chain’s 15 stores.
“The company has followed the procedures in its labor contract for adjusting its work force. The procedures involve seniority, job classifications and notice requirements,” Buck said in an interview with the Beacon Journal. “All of these employees are subject to recall and will be considered for openings as they occur.”
Buck said the 45 workers represented between 2 to 3 percent of the company’s total 2,000 part-time and full-time employees.
A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880, which represents hourly workers at Acme as well as Giant Eagle, Dave’s, Fishers Foods and Heinen’s stores in Northeast Ohio, said the union is “in discussions with Acme about the impact of these layoffs. Another meeting is scheduled for Monday.”
The union declined additional comment.
Buck said the reason for the layoffs was “due to market conditions, competition and general slowdown this time of year.”
Asked whether the grocer typically laid off employees seasonally, Buck said he did not recall whether there had been layoffs in previous years. But he said it often occurs in the industry during the early part of the calendar year.
In January 2010, Acme reduced the hours of 131 workers, saying the chain adjusted its expenses to match lower sales. At the time, a representative for the union said reductions in hours and layoffs often occur after the holidays. Also at the time, two store co-directors and nine administrative employees at the headquarters were laid off.
Regarding the current layoffs, Buck said, “The company regrets the necessity of these layoffs, but it is critically important that expenses be maintained in line with revenues in a very difficult economy in a very competitive retail grocery environment.”
On Wednesday, Acme President Steve Albrecht declined comment when asked about layoffs.
Albrecht referred questions to Buck, who initially declined comment.
Albrecht also declined comment when asked about work-force cuts coming not long after the grocery chain recently made two corporate expansion announcements.
Acme has disclosed plans to build its first new store in more than 20 years in Green and also outlined an expansion of its Cuyahoga Falls store on State Road. Both of those moves could result in new hires.
“I have no comment on that. I don’t want to respond to that. Our work force is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. We are following the procedure,” said Albrecht.
On Thursday, Buck said the new store and expansion plan are unrelated to the layoffs.
“One is to deal with ongoing expenses. The other is capital investment. In the future, we anticipate there will be expansion of employment. That is awaiting the construction and building of that store,” Buck said.
Buck confirmed that the UFCW Local 880 contracts covering Acme employees have wage tiers and classifications of workers, but denied that the highest-tiered workers were being let go in order to hire lower-wage workers receiving fewer benefits.
Employees were notified last week and will be laid off effective at the end of this week, he said. There are some severance payments, but Buck said he did not know exact amounts.
Real estate development firm Albrecht Inc., a sister company of the Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co. that operates Acme Fresh Market, hopes to break ground off Massillon Road in Green by January of next year and have that store open by the holiday season.
The 68,000 square-foot store will be the anchor tenant on 16.5 acres owned and developed by Albrecht Inc., and the investment in the full strip-mall project is estimated between $15 million to $20 million.
The store will join 15 Acme-operated stores and one franchise store, Henry’s Acme in Akron.
Company officials said the new store would employ about 150 and that it was too early to know whether any employees would be transferred. However, officials said regardless, there would be an increase of about 150 workers companywide.
In late January, Acme announced it would spend $8 million to expand the State Road store. It will grow from 30,000 square feet to 50,000. The company said the store would add 40 employees to its current 70.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.