North Fork Waldbaum’s workers fear for jobs after bankruptcy filing

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11/02/2011 9:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Tracy Raynor has worked in the bakery at Waldbaum's since she was 16. She said she now believes the company isn’t interested in keeping its doors open because there aren’t any plans for capital improvements at the store.

Although the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, owner of supermarket giant Waldbaum’s, filed for bankruptcy last year, company officials said this week that the stores in Riverhead and Mattituck are not in danger of closing.

Company CEO Sam Martin said in a press release that the Chapter 11 proceeding allows the company to restructure its debt, reduce its structural costs and address its legacy issues. According to the A&P website, the company operates 336 stores in seven states along the East Coast and currently employs about 39,000 people.

“With access to a significant amount of liquidity, we are making strategic decisions that will enable us to complete our turnaround and emerge with a new capital structure and an enhanced ability to provide value to our customers,” Mr. Martin said.

But the prepared statements weren’t much comfort to some local Waldbaum’s workers, who fear for their jobs and whose union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342, is currently in contract negotiations with the New Jersey-based company.

Tracy Raynor of Cutchogue, who has worked at the Waldbaum’s on Main Road in Mattituck for 25 years, said she believes the company isn’t interested in keeping its doors open because there aren’t any plans for capital improvements at the store.

“What they say and what they do are two different things,” said Ms. Raynor, who is a clerk in the bakery department and who was put in touch with the News-Review through a public relations firm representing the workers. She added she hasn’t noticed any plans to upgrade the store’s condition in several years. “In my opinion, nothing has changed … We don’t know, one day to the next, if we’re going to be closed.”

A&P spokeswoman Marcy Connor said she believes workers shouldn’t be concerned because “the company doesn’t have any plans to close any more stores at this time.

“Our Mattituck and Riverhead Waldbaum’s stores provide community residents with excellent products and service and we are continuously working to enhance the shopping experience for our customers,” Ms. Connor said in an email. “We have served the Suffolk County community for many years and we look forward to continuing to do so in the future.”

The A&P company — which also owns the supermarket chains Pathmark, Best Cellars, Food Emporium, Super Fresh and Food Basics — has closed two stores in Suffolk County since it filed for bankruptcy last December. Before that, a Waldbaum’s in Centereach was shuttered in October 2010. In April 2011, the company closed 10 stores across the state, Ms. Connor said.

Joe Vallani of Mastic, who has worked as head cutter in the meat department at the Riverhead Waldbaum’s on Route 58 for four years, said he’s concerned his store will be the next one on the chopping block.

“I’m concerned about the future of the company because whenever you hear ‘bankruptcy’ nothing really good comes to mind,” said Mr. Vallani, who has been a Walbaum’s employee for over 25 years. “We all get up every day and do the best job we can, but you never know what’s going to happen. Not knowing is the hardest part.”

He was also put in touch with the paper through a P.R. firm.

Ms. Raynor agreed the company’s uncertainty is troublesome, but said she’s not ready to start skimming the classifieds.

“I’m sticking it out,” she said. “I really don’t want to start over. Finding a job is hard.”

As the company’s bankruptcy proceedings continue, Ms. Raynor and Mr. Vallani both say they are hoping for the best.

“I really don’t want to have the doors closed,” Ms. Raynor said. “I’ve been here so long, I’m like the mayor of Waldbaum’s. I try to make sure the customers are happy.”

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