Avner Ben Senior - Eliahu Hershkovitch - 20092011
Avner Ben Senior, union chief, outside a Super-Sol branch in Sderot, where prices run high. Photo by Eliahu Hershkovitch
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Workers at dozens of companies in the south, amounting to tens of thousands of people, are threatening to boycott Super-Sol and Mega if the supermarket chains don't start offering the same prices that they charge in big cities.

The announcement follows price comparisons TheMarker conducted last week, which revealed that the chains charge as much as 30% more in poorer periphery towns than they do in cities with more competition, such as Jerusalem and well-heeled Ramat Gan.

Super-Sol Deal's prices were 30% higher in Sderot than Jerusalem, and were also 30% more in Dimona and Nes Tziona than in Ramat Gan. Another survey found that competitor Mega Bool charged 10% to 15% more in Dimona, Acre and Kiryat Gat than in the Haifa suburbs.

The locations with higher prices share a common denominator - fewer supermarkets in town.

Avner Ben Senior, head of the forum of Ramat Hovav workers' unions, wrote to the managements of Super-Sol and Mega, demanding they lower prices in the periphery within 24 hours. The forum represents 4,000 workers and includes 20 factories, including Israel Chemicals company Bromide Compounds, Makhteshim Agan and Teva Tech. "Tens of thousands of workers support a boycott," Ben Senior said. "Ben-Gurion University, the Negev Nuclear Research Center, Soroka Medical Center, Rotem and Dead Sea Industries have joined us. If Super-Sol and Mega continue disparaging us and don't offer the same prices in the periphery as they do in more central locations, we'll boycott."

"I can't understand how a respectable, dignified chain could even consider boosting profits at the expense of poor communities in the periphery, in favor of well-heeled communities in the center," he wrote. "Plus, operating costs are higher in the center."

Ben Senior said that buses were scheduled to take residents of Be'er Sheva, Dimona, Yeruham and other local communities to a branch of the discount supermarket Rami Levi Shivuk Hashikma in Kiryat Malakhi on Wednesday, so that they could make their big pre-holiday purchases there. A company is donating the buses in order to support the protest, he said. Super-Sol had already responded and scheduled a meeting with Ben Senior for Tuesday, he said.

The unions are also threatening to stop buying their workers vouchers for Mega and Super-Sol. The unions buy millions of shekels in vouchers a year.

"If the big chains continue disparaging the Negev residents, we intend to halt our monthly purchases of vouchers and cancel our purchases for Rosh Hashanah and the coming holidays," Ben Senior wrote.

Israel Chemicals spends more than NIS 2 million on vouchers for Rosh Hashanah and more than NIS 7 million every year. Bromide Compounds alone gives employees NIS 500 in vouchers a month.

The supermarket chains sell the vouchers at a discount off their redemption value. The money is essentially a loan to the supermarkets.

Ben Senior noted that the unions had already purchased their vouchers for Rosh Hashanah, but said they would tell workers not to use them and would halt all purchases in the future.

Super-Sol said: "Branches of Super-Sol Deal carry more than 20,000 products at similar prices around the nation, regardless of location. Price differences between cities may be 2% to 3%. In addition, the branches offer more than 600 sales advertising similar prices around the nation, as well as a limited number of sales in each locale."

Mega said that it offers customers the cheapest basket of goods in every area, city and neighborhood where it has a branch.