About 107 former Phar-Mor pharmacy employees are already working at Giant Eagle stores.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Giant Eagle is moving on with its plan to hire workers left jobless by the sale of Phar-Mor by temporarily recalling about 30 laid off laborers at the Tamco distribution center here.
Atty. Dan Shapira, legal counsel for Giant Eagle, said the grocery store chain has also begun scheduling interviews with Phar-Mor store employees while they're at work. It plans to begin hiring them at its grocery stores when the Phar-Mors close.
Interviews are generally being conducted in employee break rooms, he said.
Giant Eagle will not hire the workers until the stores shut down because it doesn't want to jeopardize retention bonuses workers are being paid to stay through the closings nor to jeopardize the success of store liquidation sales.
The Pittsburgh-based grocery store chain already has hired 45 former Phar-Mor pharmacists, 50 pharmacy technicians and 12 pharmacy trainees, Shapira said, and new hires are already working at area Giant Eagle stores.
Giant Eagle bought the prescription records and pharmacy inventory from 52 Phar-Mor stores, including all those in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
There was no hiring delay for the pharmacy employees, he explained, because the store pharmacies closed almost immediately after the sale was approved.
Shapira acknowledged that business has increased at Giant Eagle pharmacies since the sale, and the additional pharmacy staff is helping the stores to keep up with the increased demand.
Meanwhile, he said, Giant Eagle is using the Tamco warehouse and some former Tamco employees under an interim agreement with Teamsters Local 377, which represents the 250 Tamco employees furloughed when Phar-Mor was sold July 18.
Bob Bernat, secretary-treasurer of Local 377, said he agreed to a one-page interim agreement with Giant Eagle in which the 30 employees will be paid $12 an hour and retain their Tamco health benefits.
The pay is lower than the former Tamco wages, Bernat said, but he's pleased that some of the 250 union workers are getting a chance to work.
"This is a new company," he explained. "They had no obligation whatsoever to deal with the union. They could have just hired people off the street at minimum wage. Fortunately, they called me and said they wanted to use my people."
Shapira said Giant Eagle is "continuing discussions on a daily basis" with Minnesota-based Snyder's Drugs, which has expressed an interest in buying and operating the Tamco facility. He said he remains optimistic that a deal can be reached by next week.
Snyder's has no warehouse of its own but contracts with other companies for distribution services. A company official has said that Snyder's would likely retain the Tamco work force if it buys the building on Victoria Road.
Giant Eagle also is in talks with other potential users of the distribution center, and has given some consideration to using the building itself, Shapira said, "but Snyder's will have the first opportunity."
Snyder's Drugs tried to buy Phar-Mor out of bankruptcy, with plans to continue operating 30 of its stores and the Tamco warehouse, but lost out to another offer.
The winning bid of about $141 million came from a bidding group composed of liquidator Hilco Merchant Resources of Boston, Giant Eagle and CVS, a Rhode Island-based drugstore chain.
Phar-Mor creditors and company officials chose the Hilco bid, and Judge William Bodoh of federal bankruptcy court in Youngstown approved the sale.
Shapira said he also is working with Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey and ACTION, the faith-based local advocacy group, to find a new tenant for the Market Street Phar-Mor store in the Newport Plaza on Youngstown's South Side.
ACTION (Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods) had campaigned successfully to get Phar-Mor to open the store in June, 2000, after Giant Eagle closed at the location.
"We've had serious expressions of interest" in the store site, Shapira said, although he would not divulge prospects' names. "The mayor deserves a lot of credit. He's been working his heart out trying to save jobs in Youngstown."