Warren worker questions picketing by councilman

WARREN – Councilman Alford Novak has been out in front walking the picket line outside of the Bottom Dollar store, 1756 North Road SE, on most days since July 29.

At least one city employee questions how a councilman can justify actions that could chase a new employer out of the city.

Rick Radich, a member of ASCME Local 74 and who works for the city’s water department, says the councilman should be doing what he can to bring business into the city.

“The Bottom Dollar has about 50 employees, it is purchasing water and paying for use of the city’s sewer system and it may be using our sanitation department,” he said. “Their employees are paying city income taxes.”

Radich said it is irresponsible for a council member to be seen doing things that could chase a business out of the city.

Bottom Dollar’s parent company is Food Lion, which is based in Salisbury, N.C. Food Lion LLC is a member of Brussels-based Delhaize Group. It is one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S., operating 1,300 supermarkets, either directly or through affiliated entities, under the names of Food Lion, Bloom, Bottom Dollar, Harveys and Reid’s. It is in 11 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

Novak, a member of Food and Commercial Workers 880, says the union members are already picketing three Bottom Dollar stores that have moved into the area. A long-time employee with Giant Eagle grocery store, Novak is on a one-year leave of absence to do the union work.

“The company is supportive of what we are doing,” Novak said.

Last month Novak, representing the local, was one of 15 union employees that signed a letter sent to city residents asking people not to shop at the foreign owned Bottom Dollar.

Included with the letter was a flier that states, “All profits go back to Belgium. Your money does not stay in Warren to help improve our economy.”

“It is not because it is foreign owned,” Novak said during an interview on Monday. “We are concerned about the way they treat their employees. Our position is if you’re going to bring a business into this area, especially with the high percentage of people living below the poverty level, you should pay them a decent wage and give them the opportunity for benefits.”

Novak claims a percentage of the new local employees are temporary workers.

“We would like to see permanent employees,” he said. “We are not trying to push them out of the city. We want them to succeed, but also to treat their employees with dignity, a living wage and benefits.”

Efforts to get comments about the picket from the North Road store’s management were referred to Food Lion’s corporate offices. There was no response from the corporate communication office.

Councilman Vince Flask, D-5th Ward, says he supports Novak’s right to picket, but says the better use of his time would be trying to organize the employees, rather than scaring off business.

“I’m hoping he is not acting in the capacity of a city officer or as chairman of council’s finance committee,” Flask said.

Flask says he is proud that Bottom Dollar has chosen to locate in Warren.

“I hope they (Bottom Dollar) and every business that comes into Warren is successful,” Flask said. “The city obviously is supportive of new businesses. Hopefully we can attract other businesses.”