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Local News

Central Grocers lays off 29 workers at Joliet warehouse

An employee of Ultra Foods collects carts Wednesday in Joliet. Central Grocers, which owns Ultra Foods, laid off 29 workers at its Joliet warehouse Friday.
An employee of Ultra Foods collects carts Wednesday in Joliet. Central Grocers, which owns Ultra Foods, laid off 29 workers at its Joliet warehouse Friday.

JOLIET – Central Grocers laid off 29 workers at its Joliet warehouse on Friday.

The layoffs are the latest development at the Joliet-based grocery wholesaler, which this week announced it is selling a chain of supermarkets it owns and is said to be for sale itself.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the layoffs.

But warehouse worker Jake Williams said he was among 29 workers laid off early Friday morning at the end of his shift.

"The supervisor told us that business is slow, which is inaccurate," Williams said. "This is usually the busiest time of the year. Usually we're hiring extra help."

Teamsters Local 703, which represents about 300 workers at the warehouse, did not return calls for comments about the layoffs.

Local 703 filed a lawsuit this week seeking a temporary restraining order to block a sale of the company until the union could ensure that its contract at the Joliet warehouse would remain intact after the transaction.

The union in its lawsuit stated it had learned of attempts to sell Central Grocers and had been told by an attorney for the company that the co-op had entered into a letter of intent with a buyer.

Central Grocers would not comment on a pending sale.

Speculation in the industry is that Albertsons Companies, which owns Jewel-Osco, is the likely buyer of both the warehouse and the 22 Strack & Van Til supermarkets that Central Grocers plans to sell.

Central Grocers owns the Strack & Van Til chain, which includes Ultra Foods. The company announced this week that nine Ultra Foods stores, including the store in Joliet, will close by June 18, while the other 22 will remain open.

The primary business of Central Grocers is providing meat, produce and other groceries to about 400 independent supermarket stores that make up a co-op that owns the company. Some of those stores have already begun to switch to other suppliers, sources said.

Local Central Grocers stores include Berkot's Super Foods and Tony's Finer Foods. The company distributes the Centrella brand food products found in its member stores.

Both the company's warehouse and its corporate offices are in Joliet.

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