Cub employees will strike Friday and Saturday at 33 Twin Cities area stores

Those shopping for an Easter Sunday feast at 33 Cub locations Friday and Saturday will encounter striking workers in pursuit of higher wages as compensation for their front-line efforts during the pandemic.

“We want to be paid for what we’ve been through the last five years,” said Jill Craig during a news conference Wednesday outside the Maple Grove grocery store on N. Wedgewood Lane where she works.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local announced Tuesday night that nearly 95% voted in favor of a first-time strike by 3,000 unionized employees at 33 Cub stores owned by United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI).

The most recent contract between the Cub and the union expired March 4. After putting an offer forward March 21, the company’s negotiators were surprised that the union wouldn’t bargain before April 11, the next scheduled meeting. Laura Daly, Cub’s general counsel, said she believes the union intends to disrupt grocery shopping before the holiday.

“We remained ready, willing and able to return to the negotiating table at any time, day or night, any day since March 21, and the union has not been willing to re-engage,” Daly said. “So at this point, I never want to say never, but we believe the union intends to move forward with the strike plan.”

Cub is prepared to implement contingency plans to ensure the continued availability of products and services during a strike.

Employees said Wednesday they want fair compensation for their work during the pandemic. That included mandatory masking, separation from medically vulnerable relatives and fear during the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.

Union officials said they want a $4 an hour pay increase spread across two years on average, vs. the $2.75 Cub offered. The union also wants to avoid what it’s called a regressive raise structure, where part-time employees working 15 hours a week will receive raises only after 140 weeks of service.

Cub countered that the company is making historic wage increases. For example, a part-time employee currently makes $12.25 an hour after five years. In year two of the company’s proposed contract, that employee would make $18.25 an hour, Daly said.

Store officials also point out a full-time maintenance employee with five years of experience would make $50,294 in the second year of the contract.

The grocer’s proposed change to a part-time raise structure addresses concerns of inequity from some who feel it is unfair that employees who worked very little saw the same pace of wage increases as those who put in more hours, Daly said.

The union charged Cub with unfair labor practices, including interrogation, coercive statements, such as threats, and coercive actions, such as surveillance, according to the National Labor Relations Board website.

Daly said she hasn’t learned the specifics of the March 31 allegations. She said she is confident the charges will be dropped. But if this is determined to be an unfair labor practice strike, the Cub couldn’t hire permanent replacement workers as it could in an economic strike for higher wages or shorter hours.

The leading Twin Cities grocer received a boost during the pandemic when buying groceries and cooking at home became even more of a necessity for most people. In a two-year span encompassing the height of the pandemic, Providence, RI-based UNFI’s retail segment saw sales increase 15%, thanks in large part to Cub.

UNFI, a wholesale specialist, acquired Eden Prairie-based Supervalu, including its Cub stores, in 2018. It initially wanted to sell the retail division and its Cub locations but later decided to retain it.

Cub is undergoing another sea change. Mike Stigers, chief executive of Cub since 2019, is departing to become the president of New Jersey-based Wakefern, the nation’s largest retailer-owned cooperative. His last day is May 31, and Cub has yet to name his replacement.

Cub has a total of 79 stores, both corporate and franchise, in Minnesota and one in Freeport, Ill.

As word started to spread the possible strike, some Cub shoppers at the Uptown store said Wednesday they were ready to support the union.

“I’ll probably not shop here if there’s a picket line,” said Wendy Farrar of Minneapolis.

Another shopper, James Leighton of Minneapolis, said he supported the strike because he was “all behind unions.”

The other grocery options in the area make avoiding Cub less of a hassle, another shopper added.

“There’s Lunds [& Byerlys] up the street, Kowalski’s, the [Wedge Community] Co-op,” said Chris Lamping of Minneapolis. “It’s not that hard.”

Star Tribune staff writer Josie Albertson-Grove contributed to this report.

The stores where employees will strike:
Apple Valley: 15350 Cedar Ave., Apple Valley

Blaine North: 12595 NE Central Ave., Blaine

Blaine South: 585 NE Northtown Drive, Blaine

Blaine West: 10881 NE University Ave., Blaine

Bloomington Lyndale: 8421 S. Lyndale Ave., Bloomington

Brooklyn Park North: 9655 N. Colorado Lane, Brooklyn Park

Brooklyn Park South: 7555 W. Broadway Ave., Brooklyn Park

Burnsville Heart of the City: 300 E. Travelers Trail, Burnsville

Burnsville South: 1750 W. County Road 42, Burnsville

Champlin: 8600 N. 114th Ave., Champlin

Chanhassen: 7900 Market Blvd., Chanhassen

Coon Rapids South: 2050 NW Northdale Blvd., Coon Rapids

Crystal: 5301 N. 36th Ave., Crystal

Eagan East: 1020 Diffley Road, Eagan

Eagan North: 1276 Town Center Drive, Eagan

Eagan West: 1940 Cliff Lake Road, Eagan

Fridley: 250 NE 57th Ave., Fridley

Lakeville North: 7435 W. 179th St., Lakeville

Lakeville South: 20250 Heritage Drive, Lakeville

Lakeville West: 17756 Kenwood Trail, Lakeville

Maple Grove: 8150 N. Wedgewood Lane, Maple Grove

Minnehaha: 4601 Snelling Ave., Minneapolis

Monticello: 216 W. Seventh St., Monticello

New Brighton: 2600 Rice Creek Road, New Brighton

Northside: 701 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis

Plymouth: 3550 N. Vicksburg Lane, Plymouth

Plymouth Rockford Road: 4445 N. Nathan Lane, Plymouth

Rosemount: 3784 W. 150th St., Rosemount

Savage: 14075 State Hwy 13, Savage

Shorewood: 23800 MN-7, Shorewood

St. Anthony: 3930 NE Silver Lake Road, St Anthony

St. Louis Park West End: 5370 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park

Uptown: 1104 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis