Albertsons' employees see cuts as grocer tries to trim costs

Tuesday, August 17th 2004, 12:41 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Idaho-based grocery store chain that employs 3,500 people in Oklahoma has cut the hours and benefits of some employees, a company spokeswoman said.

Albertsons spokeswoman Jennifer Vroman said some full-time employees have been moved to part-time hours and employees working less than 30 hours a week will no longer have company-paid benefits.

``This is already a requirement across the country; we are just standardizing across the board,'' Vroman told The Oklahoman.

Albertsons, based in Boise, Idaho, has 31 stores across the state, including a distribution center in Ponca City.

Albertsons controls about 9.6 percent of the Oklahoma grocery market, according to the Shelby Report for August. The report tracks retail market share by state. Wal-Mart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets control 42.7 percent.

Employees were notified in June of the changes in their health care plan and were told they would have to pay for health benefits.

Albertsons has been trying to cut its operating costs for several months.

During the first six months of 2004, Albertsons cut $710 million as part of a multiyear, $1 billion cost-cutting plan. Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnston told analysts at the end of June to expect further labor and benefit reductions.

Earlier this year, Albertsons streamlined its management structure in its Dallas division, which oversees stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Nebraska. The company also closed stores in New Orleans and Omaha, Neb., affecting about 30 stores and drug stores.

Jim Brooks, business marketing specialist for the Oklahoma Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, said changes don't forecast a bright future for the grocery-store chain.

``Cutting hours and benefits would seem to indicate a lack of business, but only they know their plans for the future,'' Brooks said.

The grocery store chain has been involved in labor disputes with employees in California and Seattle over increases in benefit costs.

In both areas, members of United Food and Commercial Workers voted to accept contracts. In Oklahoma, Albertsons employees are not unionized.