Grocery workers in Brainerd Lakes area on strike

a group of workers go on strike
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 strike on Friday at Super One Foods in Baxter.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Updated: 1:45 p.m.

More than 500 grocery store workers in the Brainerd Lakes area started a planned four-day strike Friday.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 work at Cub Foods, SuperValu and Super One Foods stores in Brainerd, Baxter, Crosby and Pequot Lakes. The stores are owned by S & R Quisberg and Miner’s.

A majority of union members voted on Dec. 12 to authorize a strike. The union says employees are seeking better wages, workplace protections and benefits. It has accused the stores of engaging in unfair labor practices, which the store owners deny.

“Striking is always a last resort, however, this type of corporate bullying not only impacts workers but the customers and communities they serve,” UFCW Local 663 President Rena Wong stated in a news release. “Quisberg’s and Miner’s have have left our members with no choice but to stand alongside each other on the picket line to confront their unfair labor practices.”

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Chris Quisberg, president of S & R Quisberg, declined to comment about the contract offers, saying he would rather bargain at the negotiating table than in the press. He said the Cub stores are continuing to operate, although will be closing a few hours early.

“We’ve had lots of good outpouring from customers coming into the store or volunteers helping us to keep the stores open and really appreciate that,” Quisberg said.

Boyd Hanson, human resources director for Miner’s, which owns Super One Foods, called the claim of unfair labor practices “completely inaccurate.”

“We believe this to be an economic strike,” Hanson said. “We’ve made them an offer, and they’ve rejected that offer. We also extended the opportunity to extend the contract to continue negotiations, and the union chose refused to do that and chose to go out on strike.”

The stores are continuing to operate, although with shortened hours. Workers stood outside Super One Foods in Baxter on Friday in a light mist, holding signs as traffic passed by on U.S. Highway 210.

Among them was Tony Ramberg, who has worked as a meat cutter at Super One Foods for 32 years. He said going on strike right before the holidays was the last thing anyone wanted, but he is hoping for better conditions for the next generation of workers.

“It’s tough to be out here, but it does show loyalty,” Ramberg said. “We all enjoy our jobs. Nobody doesn’t want to work. We just want to be recognized for what we do.”

UFCW Local 663 had announced three other planned strikes involving Minnesota grocery stores earlier this year — at some Cub Foods locations in April, Lunds & Byerlys in June and Kowalski’s in July. Those strikes were averted after the stores and the union reached contract agreements.