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Tops Teamster workers fuming over loss of pensions

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) - Hundreds of Teamsters, who work for Tops Markets, demanded to know in meetings Wednesday, what happened to their hard earned pensions, after the Amherst-based grocery chain announced it has reached a settlement with the New York State Teamsters Pension Fund over a pension dispute.

Teamsters Local Union 264, includes more than 600 workers and truck drivers at the Tops warehouse in Lancaster.

Tops Markets sold the warehouse to C&S Wholesale Grocers in 2002, then bought the Genesee Street facility back in 2014, but the Teamsters Pension Fund--which has a governing board separate from the Teamsters union--refused to allow Tops and its union workers back into the pension fund.

Warehouse associate Daniel Sheehan could not believe the Teamsters Pension Fund would not allow teamsters back into the fund, "We got kicked out 4 years ago from our pension fund over a dispute between Tops and our pension fund."

Over the next 4 years, the Teamsters at the warehouse set pay raises aside, opting instead to put the money into a retirement account, figuring eventually the pension fund would allow them and Tops back into the pension fund, but it never did.

This week Tops Markets announced the company had reached a tentative settlement with the Teamsters Pension Fund over their dispute, and Teamsters union leaders met with rank and file members at their union offices in Cheektowaga to tell them Tops has spent much of that retirement money for the company's own purposes.

In February Tops filed bankruptcy, and Teamsters shop steward Scott Nowak said the union members have given up millions of dollars in pay raises they have little chance of ever getting back. 

"We've been putting roughly $7 an hour into a pension fund--half of it being diverted raises, the other half was a negotiated benefit that Tops was to contribute.  Since then that is gone."

Now that Tops has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy the settlement with the pension fund could get the company off the hook for millions of dollars the fund claimed was owed by Tops.

Teamsters leaders say part of Tops' new deal will require Teamsters to delay retirement until they turn 65.  Just a few years ago, they could put in their papers at 55, with 30 years' service.

Now Tops, the Teamsters Pension Fund, and C&S Wholesale have come up with a lump sum for the warehouse workers to put toward a replacement plan, like a 401k.

Tops released a written statement this week saying the company is pleased to have reached the agreement," which will allow us to provide important benefits to Teamsters’ members.  While the agreement must be finalized and ratified and is subject to court approval, it represents an important milestone in our financial restructuring efforts."

The Teamsters said those "important benefits" are only a fraction of what they should be getting for the pay raises they gave up.


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