Haggen stores, employees face uncertain future

Bidding on Haggen’s 33 “core” stores will begin Feb. 22 in New York City.
Bidding on Haggen’s 33 “core” stores will begin Feb. 22 in New York City. Staff file

Haggen’s postponement of the auctioning of its more than 30 “core” stores, including two in Thurston County and three in Pierce County, is contributing to worker unease.

The fate of other Haggen stores not in the auction and their employees is just as uncertain.

The chain hasn’t issued a statement in months, except to postpone the auction twice. Bidding on the Bellingham-based grocer’s latest round of stores will begin Feb. 22 in New York City.

The postponements have been made for potential buyers to refine their bids, a person with knowledge of the sale told The News Tribune.

Haggen has been navigating through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The chain of events that led to the company’s downfall began in early 2015. That’s when the 18-store chain purchased 146 stores from Albertsons and Safeway. The purchase helped satisfy a Federal Trade Commission requirement that Safeway and Albertsons divest some of its stores before they merged.

Haggen struggled in converting those stores and filed for bankruptcy in September, three months after completing the conversion.

A union spokesman said the auction postponement is the latest blow in a period of sales, purchases, closings and bankruptcy.

“There’s an uncertainty that comes with the changing of the auction dates,” said Nathe Lawver of UFCW Local 367. The union represented about 700 Haggen workers in Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties at the time when Haggen declared bankruptcy.

Since then some employees have lost their jobs and others have had to change stores and jobs, Lawver said. He estimates 200 positions have been eliminated since September.

“Our members have been on this roller-coaster ride for well over a year now. This is an unacceptable uncertainty that they are living through day to day,” Lawver said.

Employees were notified of the most recent auction postponement by notices posted in stores Monday night, Lawver said.

“After discussions with the parties involved, the core store auction has been rescheduled to February 22. It will still take place at our legal team’s offices in New York, with the same parties in attendance,” the flier read in part.

“We’ve lost quite a few good people,” said Darcel Covey, a seafood worker at the Haggen store on Steilacoom Boulevard in Lakewood. Some left voluntarily and others were let go, she said.

Covey had been out of state and just learned of the auction postponement on Thursday.

“That’s nerve-racking. A lot of people, me in particular, want to know what’s going to happen. I’ve already canceled one vacation because of the uncertainty,” Covey said. She’s also saving extra money.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor