With tensions already high with its labor union, Save Mart Supermarkets has imposed a pay cut on as many as 150 of its highest-paid union workers in the Sacramento region.
Save Mart said the move was permitted under its contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers. The affected workers were demoted from senior clerk positions, cutting their hourly pay to around $16 from $21, starting Sunday.
Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Save Mart, said the move was prompted by staffing ratios spelled out in the contract. Because of "store closures and current economic conditions," she said the Modesto grocery chain had more senior clerks than required.
Save Mart made similar moves recently in Fresno and Merced, she said.
Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW Local 8 in Roseville, said the union "will do everything necessary to protect our members' rights" under the contract.
The move could escalate tensions with the UFCW as negotiations on a new contract hit a rough patch this week.
Following a marathon bargaining session that ended early Wednesday, the UFCW local in San Jose said it will schedule a strike authorization vote against Save Mart.
The local, in a message to its members, said Save Mart is "adopting an intransigent anti-worker, anti-union approach."
The Roseville local hasn't yet scheduled a strike authorization vote.
Both locals have already authorized a strike against Raley's.
Contract negotiations with all three unionized grocery chains in Northern California Save Mart, Raley's and Safeway have dragged into their ninth month.
Chad Hardy, one of the Save Mart employees whose pay is getting cut, said he believes the company's decision was tied somehow to the contract negotiations.
"I'm hoping this is a ploy," said Hardy, who works at a Save Mart in Roseville and has spent two decades with the company. "They're reclassifying people after 21 years of service."