METHUEN — A decision by the Shaw's supermarket chain to hire replacement workers for striking employees at the company's Danton Drive distribution plant and warehouse has prompted a blistering response from the union.

"By threatening to bring in replacement workers, Shaw's is jeopardizing the livelihoods of hundreds of workers and their families," said union spokesman Peter Derouen. "It is long past time for the company to return to the table and publicly demonstrate its commitment to their hard working and dedicated employees who have helped make Shaw's a successful company."

Late yesterday, the company announced its intention to hire some 300 replacement workers for the union employees who voted to strike on March 7. The warehouse is a storage and distribution center of fresh produce for all 176 Shaw's stores in New England, and is thus a critical hub in company's ability to provide customers with groceries.

Spokeswoman Judy Chong said yesterday that Shaw's had no choice after the union dismissed a recent offer.

She said the West Bridgewater-based company had to protect its business and the jobs of 25,000 other employees in New England.

The union voted 228-8 to go on strike after rejecting an offer with what the union called a "substandard" wage hike, coupled with health care payment increases. They said workers would end up losing money.

The two sides are still working with a federal mediator. It is unclear what impact this latest move by Shaw's will have on those talks.

Derouen added, "Instead of returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract that provides decent wages and benefits, the company has taken this dispute to a new level by their intention of hiring permanent replacement workers at the Methuen warehouse. Many of these men and women have worked at the warehouse for many years."

He said that the union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791, will closely monitor Shaw's activities to determine if it is violating federal labor laws.

In conjunction with this, the Union is also demanding that Shaw's provide them with any documents that it is using during the replacement hiring process.

The Union has offered to restart negotiations in pursuit of a fair agreement, but Shaw's has thus far refused, Derouen said in a statement released yesterday. UFCW members, community leaders, and concerned shoppers will continue to picket the Methuen warehouse and Shaw's non-union store locations until the company returns to the bargaining table.

Picket lines have shown up at many southern New Hampshire stores.

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