HARLEM — After 25 years of working in the receiving department at Pathmark, Keith Jefferson says it would be difficult to find a job with comparable pay that would allow him to support his three children.
"It would be like three to one," Jefferson said. "I'd have to find three jobs to equal this one."
After decades of experience, career employees like Jefferson, who works at the Lexington Avenue and 125th Street store, can earn $20 to $23-per-hour plus health benefits working at one of two Pathmark Supermarkets in Harlem.
But those benefits may be cut now that Pathmark's parent company, the bankrupt Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), is asking for wage freezes, pay reductions and benefit cuts in ongoing labor contract negotiations. A&P also operates 20 A&P, Food Emporium and Pathmark supermarkets in Manhattan.
"The mood of the employees is just apprehensive. My biggest worry is layoffs," said Jefferson.
There are two Pathmarks in Harlem that employ hundreds of people. Both have been a part of city efforts to revive East Harlem and the West 145th Street corridor. When it opened in 1999, the 64,000 square foot, $15 million Pathmark on Lexington Avenue and 125th Street was the first full-service supermarket in Harlem in 30 years.
Jefferson said store employees see themselves as part of the effort to improve East Harlem.
"Before this store came there was an empty lot with people just hanging out on the corner. Now this area is growing," said Jefferson.
Among the concessions that A&P is looking for are a five-year wage freeze, wage cuts and reductions in holiday, sick and vacation time and increased employee contribution to health insurance, according to officials at the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Scot Hoffman, a spokesman for A&P, declined to comment on specific proposals but said labor cost reductions are necessary given the company's financial position.
"Reducing our labor costs is critical to completing our turnaround, and that is why we have entered into negotiations with the labor unions that represent our associates," said Hoffman.
He said that while A&P "has made significant progress in its restructuring effort" there is still a need for "substantial cost savings in order to successfully emerge from Chapter 11 and be competitive for the long-term."
Workers and union officials say they aren't buying it. The United Food and Commercial Workers union lost an April court battle to prevent A&P from implementing a bonus plan that could pay $3.7 million to up to six executives, including $1.3 million to the CEO, according to a report from Bloomberg.
"It has to be a two-way street. It has to be fair," said Flame Washington, another 25-year employee who works in health and beauty aids at the East Harlem store.
"We all are worried and just trying to keep our jobs," she said.