Clubmarket Strike Called Off as Supersol Agrees to Staff Bonuses

Supersol, the largest retailer in the country, outbid all other parties in a tender for the Clubmarket chain.

To avert a threatened strike at Clubmarket stores, and staff objections to a takeover by rival Supersol chain, company execs and labor representatives met and agreed on a package of wage deals yesterday in the event that Supersol's bid for Clubmarket goes through.

Supersol, the largest retailer in the country, outbid all other parties in a tender for the Clubmarket chain - the third largest - with an offer of almost NIS 1 billion. However staffers at Clubmarket, currently under court protection from bankruptcy after running up debts of NIS 1.3 billion, objected to the new terms and conditions should Supersol's bid pass the approval of both Clubmarket's trustees, the court and the all-important Antitrust Commission.

Yesterday all sides agreed that should the offer go through, Clubmarket staffers would be dismissed and then reemployed by Supersol as new workers - a condition that they had objected to - but that this would be tempered by a payment of some NIS 108 million to be shared between the 3,500 workers, although Supersol sources said this sum would go more toward the lowest paid workers.

In addition, the 600-700 more veteran staffers, who could find themselves earning 50 percent less under Supersol's work conditions, would enjoy a top-up pay addition of some NIS 80 million, although the final sum is still under debate.

The talks yesterday included representatives of the Histadrut labor federation, Supersol CEO Effie Rosenhaus and Clubmarket court-appointed trustee managers Shlomo Nass and Gabi Trabelsi. The Histadrut called yesterday's agreement "a great achievement for Clubmarket workers," and the planned strike for today throughout the Clubmarket chain was called off.

Ofer Eini of the Histadrut's trade union division said, "There are still some matters of dispute, but these can be settled. I praise the behavior of Supersol's management which made clear to the Clubmarket managers that without a staff agreement they would not pursue the purchase. I assume the Histadrut will be able to completely remove every threat of declaring a strike at Clubmarket against the merger."

Beggars can be choosers

Although Supersol's bid outbid the other contenders by more than NIS 400 million, the race is not won until the Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum has approved it, and yesterday Nass and Trabelsi made clear that they expected him to play along. "Not approving Supersol's offer for Clubmarket would mean the liquidation of the chain," the managers wrote in their submission to Strum, accompanying the documentation of the highest offer.

While another bid from the Elkayam-Sheetrit group would have spread the payment over 10 years, Supersol's was for cash, pronto, the submission continued. The top bid would also cover 75 percent of Clubmarket's creditors' debts, they explained, while Elkayam-Sheetrit would repay only 20 percent.

The managers also contended that the other bids for the chain would not be acceptable to the creditors, as they are so much lower than that of Supersol. In addition, Supersol was the only bidder who would employ all Clubmarket staffers, whereas Elkayam-Sheetrit and Rami Levy would take them on but not on collective work arrangements.

In effect, rejecting Supersol's bid would certainly close the company, as it is widely believed that the managers would not be willing to continue running the company in such dire straits if the sale falls through.

Strum said his team were working flat out to complete their examination of the matter, balancing the issue of competition with a speedy decision. (The court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.) "We are very familiar with the legal processes, and on the other hand we do not feel any need to panic, as the process would not have taken months anyway."