Kennebec Journal: Shaws supermarkets cuts Maine jobs (March 25, 2010)

AUGUSTA — Shaw’s Supermarkets has laid off an unspecified number of associates at its Western Avenue store.

The company announced the layoffs Wednesday, saying it would terminate 4 percent of its store associates throughout New England. It did not specify the number of layoffs in Maine or at any specific store.

The chain is Maine’s seventh largest private employer, according to a December 2008 survey by MaineBiz, with 3,500 employees statewide. It has 22 stores in the state, including its Western Avenue store in Augusta and its Kennedy Memorial Drive location in Waterville.

“We need to reduce our full-time retail positions as part of our effort to look at how we can operate more efficiently,” company spokeswoman Judy Chong said Wednesday.

The lost positions are nonunionized, she said.

Augusta store manager Jeff Purdy declined comment.

State labor officials said they were reaching out to company officials for more information.

“We are following up with the company,” Maine Department of Labor spokesman Adam Fisher said.

Once the state is aware of the size of the layoff, “we’ll do what we consistently do: host a rapid response session advising anyone who lost their job of the services that are available to them,” Fisher said. Such sessions are offered to anyone involved in a layoff, no matter the size of the employer or the number of jobs lost, he said.

Wednesday’s announcement came a day after Shaw’s began hiring permanent replacements for union employees on strike at its Methuen, Mass., distribution center.

In taking that action, Chong said Shaw’s needed to protect its business and the jobs of its 25,000 other employees after about 300 distribution center employees went on strike March 7.

The distribution workers rejected a combination of hikes in wages and health care payments they said would cost them money.

Peter Derouen, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the company has refused to negotiate with distribution workers; the company has denied that allegation.

Shaw’s is the second largest food retailer in New England behind Stop & Shop, according to Hoovers, a business information service. Its corporate parent, SuperValu Inc., of Minneapolis, is North America’s fourth-largest food retailer by sales, according to Supermarket News, an industry trade group.

The company — which opened its first store in Portland in 1860 — has 176 stores, and is in every New England state but Connecticut. Shaw’s bolted Connecticut earlier this year by selling its 18 stores — 11 to competitors ShopRite and PriceRite — after 15 years there.

Grocers have been reporting flat sales amid a weak economy.

Total volume for the 75 largest U.S. food retailers and wholesalers fell about 0.2 percent in 2009, according to Supermarket News.

Revenues, which includes sales of food and nonfood merchandise in North America, were $891.4 billion in 2009, compared with $893.1 billion in 2008.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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