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Shaw’s will lay off 4% of workers

Supermarket says strike is not a factor

Shaw’s says laid-off workers can apply for jobs at the Methuen distribution center where striking workers are being replaced. Shaw’s says laid-off workers can apply for jobs at the Methuen distribution center where striking workers are being replaced. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / March 25, 2010

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Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. said yesterday that it plans to lay off 4 percent of its store associates in early April in an effort to stay competitive and make its stores more efficient. The move comes more than two weeks after hundreds of its workers went on strike across New England.

Shaw’s spokeswoman Judy Chong said the cutbacks will take effect on April 10 and include “some full-time retail positions’’ in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. But she declined to say how many employees would lose their jobs.

Shaw’s, which has 176 locations in New England, employs about 25,000 total workers in its stores, corporate offices, and distribution centers.

“It streamlines our operations. It gives us flexibility to schedule according to business conditions and customer traffic patterns, and it brings costs into line,’’ Chong said.

The job reductions come at a time of labor unrest for the supermarket chain. Employees at a Methuen distribution center went on strike on March 7 following three months of negotiations and a rejection of a final contract offer.

The strike has since expanded to include workers at 16 locations across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Shaw’s Chong said the company spent several months looking at how it could operate more efficiently, and the resulting layoffs are unrelated to the ongoing strike. She said these layoffs would affect only employees in nonunion stores and not the workers at the Methuen center, which distributes most of the perishable food to nearly 200 Shaw’s and Star Market stores across New England. Those workers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 791.

Union spokesman Peter Derouen said of the strike: “We’re fighting, and hopefully at some point they’ll come to their senses.’’

Shaw’s, which this week began permanently replacing striking workers, said it will give laid-off employees a chance to apply for work in Methuen.

Shaw’s isn’t the only local supermarket chain to have labor issues lately. On March 7, grocery workers at Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. approved new contracts after months of tense negotiations, averting a strike and resulting in three-year deals that will boost wages and benefits for five unions representing employees in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.