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Central Coast Haggen layoffs cause stir among union employees, disabled community

Jordan Bell, KCBX News

The Haggen grocery store chain is facing criticism for its recent string of layoffs involving full-time food and general merchandise clerks, including several developmentally disabled employees on the Central Coast.

Haggen management said it was a "difficult decision to temporarily cut back on staffing," but necessary in order to compete locally.

The grocer said the move will help the chain operate as "efficiently as possible." Haggen recently took over 146 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Santa Barbara-based PathPoint, an organization that helps disabled people find work, said Tuesday a total of 17 employees placed in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties were let go in July by the grocer with less than a week's notice.

"... and many of those folks were long-term employees," said Stephanie Boumediene, PathPoint Vice President. "In Santa Barbara we had one person that was 18 years, so these were long-serving employees that really enjoyed their positions." 

The union representing many of the laid off workers, UFCW Local 770, said in a statement that it has filed a grievance on behalf of all reduced employees.

"When Haggen management met with the Unions a few days prior to implementing the reductions, we advised them that their approach to reducing costs may violate our agreement, but Haggen implemented the reductions anyway," the union's statement reads.

Boumediene said other grocery chains including Vons, Albertsons and Ralph's have contacted PathPoint to help find new jobs for those let go by Haggen.

Bill Shaner, CEO Haggen Pacific Southwest, issued the following statement regarding the layoffs:

“As we introduce Haggen throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, our challenge is to establish and grow the brand in competitive new markets. To ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily cut back on staffing at our stores, with specific reductions varying by store. We value the contributions these employees have made and are committed to treating all employees respectfully and professionally through this transition. Our focus moving forward is to continue to bring the complete Haggen experience to our stores – offering fresh, locally sourced products alongside everyday big brands – and establishing ourselves in the competitive grocery space.”