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'Rapid Response Teams' Organized For Mass Layoffs At Haggen Grocery Stores

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
File photo of a Haggen Food and Pharmacy in Olympia, Washington.

The state employment departments in Oregon and Washington are organizing 'rapid response' teams to help nearly 1,000 grocery workers facing mass layoff.

Haggen Food and Pharmacy is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection after a failed expansion.

Late last week, the Bellingham-based grocery chain announced plans to close dozens of former Safeway and Albertsons stores it only recently acquired and converted to the Haggen brand. Haggen submitted the government-required 60-day notice of mass layoffs. That activated the "rapid response" teams each state has.

Layoff warning notices Haggen prepared said 550 grocery jobs in Washington and 416 in Oregon would disappear.

Specialists hired by the state will meet with workers at the affected stores -- seven in Oregon and 14 in Washington. At those meetings, workers can get a head start on how to apply for unemployment, retraining or job search services.

Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement that it wants Haggen to try harder to sell the doomed stores to another grocer that would keep them open. A Haggen spokesperson said it has hired an investment bank to "actively" market the stores it plans to close.

Any store sales would have to win approval of the bankruptcy judge.

On Friday, the bankruptcy court gave Albertsons permission to rehire employees affected by the unraveling of Haggen's expansion. The Federal Trade Commission had previously put restrictions on hiring by Albertsons to prevent employee poaching during the changeover of ownership.

In a news release, Haggen said it plans to rebuild around "a core group" of 37 stores in the Pacific Northwest. Haggen operated 18 stores in Washington and Oregon before a December 2014 transaction with Albertsons and Safeway launched a massive expansion.

Haggen purchased 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores across the West that its bigger rivals were forced to divest as part of their merger. After this latest round of closures, Haggen will completely exit California, Arizona and Nevada.

Haggen and Albertsons have filed dueling lawsuits against each other. Haggen claims Albertsons deliberately undermined the store conversions. Albertsons in turn sued Haggen for allegedly failing to pay for inventory it inherited.

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Northwest Haggen Food & Pharmacy stores scheduled to close around late November 2015:

Baker City

Gig Harbor
Liberty Lake
Port Orchard
Renton - NE 4th Street
Renton - SE Petrovitsky Rd

Recently closed:

Klamath Falls (2)
Grants Pass


Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.