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Union cancels Marsh vote planned for Friday

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The local grocery workers union has pulled its request for an election at the Marsh supermarket in Beech Grove, saying recent events cast a pall over the vote scheduled for Friday.

"We want them to have a free and fair election," United Food and Commercial Workers International representative Anthony Tracy said Thursday afternoon. "We don't believe the environment exists right now."

Also this week, UFCW Local 700 filed a third complaint against Marsh with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices. The union filed two previous charges after Marsh employees were fired or disciplined, allegedly in retaliation for their activities promoting the union.

In a written statement, Marsh Supermarkets Inc. HR executive Dave Redden "vehemently" denied the union's charges and said the decision to call off the vote is a sign that a majority of employees are comfortable with the status quo.

"While we do not comment on current litigation, we believe the untrue statements and charges by the union are an effort to cover up the real failure of the union to entice our associates to vote for their representation," said Redden, the chain's executive vice president of human resources. "Once more our associates did not see the benefit in being unionized as in their best long-term interest."

As IBJ reported earlier this month, the union drive has picked up steam this year as Marsh's parent company tried to sell the chain then pulled it off the market after failing to find a buyer.  Florida-based private equity firm Sun Capital Partners, which bought Marsh for $88 million in cash and the assumption of $237 million in debt, found no takers after it began marketing Marsh for $130 million to $150 million in late 2009.

The labor relations board certified a 44-employee bargaining unit at the Beech Grove store. Even if the Friday election were successful, the union would have to repeat the process throughout the chain to represent employees at other stores.

The union's Indianapolis-based Local 700 already represents 8,000 Kroger store employees.

According to the complaint union officials filed Wednesday, Marsh fired employee Tony Massey on Sept. 7 in retaliation for his organizing activities, assigned corporate staff to the store on Albany Street in Beech Grove to intimidate employees, and trained security cameras on one employee, Marsha Bookout.

The union also alleges that recent pay increases for store department heads and top clerks, which came after the petition for election was filed in July, were unlawful. It accuses Marsh of giving the raises to influence the vote, and says known union supporters didn't get pay increases.

Union leaders may ask the labor relations board to reschedule the election, but it will face a six-month waiting period. Tracy said that's not a problem. "We're letting the board investigate charges," he said. "It probably will take that long to resolve the charges."

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