By Rick Pusiak
The Canadian director of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union isn?t ready to predict whether the Loeb grocery store on Errington Street in Chelmsford can be saved.
Robin McArthur sat down for three hours Monday with two representatives from Loeb head office.
Also present at the Sudbury meeting were union members who are part of a ?save our store? committee.
?I am of the opinion that the company representatives at that meeting didn?t have the authority to make any real decisions,? said McArthur.
?But they assured us that they would go back to Ottawa, to the officers of the company, the executives of the company and relay the various messages?that we had given them.?
Matters that were discussed included wage percentages in relation to sales, rent per square foot and fixed costs including taxes, heat and hydro. The union is looking at ways those costs can be reduced.
McArthur added a representative for the landlord understood the seriousness of the company?s position.
Unless there?s a change Loeb plans on shutting down the store at the end of the month.
?I think that everybody is now clear, it?s not a question of the company crying wolf,? said the union leader. ?The store is in financial straits?the operation of the store.
The costs are overriding any profitability that could be there.?
Store staff have passed out about 5,000 leaflets in Chelmsford urging shoppers to patronize the Loeb outlet.
Right now the volume just isn?t there, said McArthur.
?If the volume can be increased all of the costs become less in relation to the operation of the site. As an example, if the store were to do $200,000 a week the wage percentage would not be out of whack, neither would the rent.?
But if the store is doing $100,000 a week, the rent and wages are excessive he said.
The company meanwhile is expected to provide data to the union by the end of the week dealing with performance at various levels of volume. That will allow the union to put a salvage plan on paper.
?Now whether or not there?s any real driving, burning desire for (the parent company), who has 550 stores approximately in Canada to put a great deal of emphasis or effort into a store that is sort of on its last legs, that becomes another question,? said McArthur.
?There has to be corporate will to keep the store open.?
The union leader said once his people have a plan together there will be another meeting with Loeb officials with the goal of keeping the lights on at the Chelmsford store.
Fifty people are employed at the Errington Street location. Forty-six of the workers are card-carrying union members.
The union was in the process of hammering out a bargaining proposal for a new contract when word came down in mid-September that the store was closing.
Employees at the high end of the pay scale earn $19 an hour. Part-timers with 48 months seniority earn $11.10 an hour.
If the Loeb closes, the only supermarket option in Chelmsford will be Briere?s Your Independent Grocer in the Place Bonaventure Mall.
The Loeb on Brady Street was recently saved when union members agreed to a lower pay package.
Last month the Loeb on Lasalle was converted into a Super C featuring discount prices.
Loeb Four Corners store was converted into a Super C some time ago, and the company has gone on record as saying it is happy with the results.