A Hammonton-based union representing thousands of Acme employees in the region has temporarily suspended contract negotiations with the supermarket chain, the union's president said Wednesday.

Brian String, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152, said the decision was made in order to give Acme and UFCW Local 1776, its sister union in Pennsylvania, a chance to work out separate contract negotiations that have failed.

Local 1776 represents clerks, cashiers and other "front-end" employees in Pennsylvania only. They have threatened to stage a walkout at 41 Acmes in the Philadelphia area Friday, when the contract expires for those 4,500 workers.

Last month, Local 1776 members overwhelmingly rejected Acme management's new contract proposal, which the union said could negatively affect workers' health insurance and benefit contributions.

In a statement, Acme has called its proposal a "very fair and reasonable contract." Local 1776 leaders have warned that if Acme management implements the rejected terms in the contract anyway, despite its members voting it down, members will not show up for work.

A telephone call seeking further comment from Acme was not returned Wednesday.

Despite Local 152's decision to halt its own contract talks with Acme, String reiterated that his union and the supermarket are not at an impasse and members will not be walking out Friday, even if Local 1776 members decide to do so.

Local 152's contract expired in May and involves 1,880 meat cutters, produce workers and other "back end" Acme employees at about 100 stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey, including Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties.

"We have not been asked (to walk out). In fact ... 1776 would like us to keep working," String said. "In this economy, it's very difficult to decide to walk out on a job."

This economy also has been tough on Acme and its parent company, Supervalu, one of the largest wholesale grocery distributors in the country.

The downturn has sent shoppers looking for deals at Walmart and other discount food sellers, tempering profits at the debt-heavy SuperValu.

Its net sales are estimated to fall 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2010, although the company was able to increase its fourth quarter net sales by 4.2 percent, to $10.8 billion, from the same period a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Local 152 continues to negotiate a new contract for its 500 Super Fresh employees in the region. Among the issues are workers' wages, pension funds, and health and welfare funds.

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