Job security may be the big question on employees' minds at Bi-Lo stores lately.
Bi-Lo Holdings LLC, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based parent company of Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie supermarkets, is reshuffling the number of full- and part-time employees across its fleet of stores, including those in the Charleston area.
The company has been telling many of its workers over the past few months that they need to reapply for their jobs, and there's no guarantee they'll be hired back. The goal is to re-evaluate their staffs at each store to ensure they have the right mix of full- and part-time employees, Bi-Lo Holdings spokesman Brian Wright said.
"Great customer service means having the right number of associates in our stores, and while many of our stores across the system are staffed at appropriate levels and can meet those customer demands, some are not," Wright said. "To be clear, we've added some positions, and we're eliminating some positions based on customer needs."
While some full-time workers may be told that their positions are no longer available at the stores they currently work in, Wright said they have opportunities to apply for part-time jobs at that store, or full-time positions that may have been created at other stores nearby.
"Our associates have the opportunity to post for new or existing positions well before we make them available to external candidates," he added.
For some full-time employees, that could mean leaving the store they've worked in for decades.
Susan Critzman said she was making conversation with some store associates recently while she stood in the checkout line at a Bi-Lo store that was formerly a Piggly Wiggly. Bi-Lo acquired 22 Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. stores in September, which included five locally, for about $35 million.
"I casually asked if anything had changed since it had been a Bi-Lo," she said, adding that the store associates told her they were both full-time employees who had been asked recently to re-apply for their jobs.
"They both looked at each other and they said, 'Our last day is the end of the month.' ... Then they proceeded to tell me that one had been working there for 40 years," Critzman said. "It just broke my heart."
But what's happening to staffs across Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie stores is not uncommon for supermarket chains, particularly those that have recently acquired new stores, said David Livingston, a supermarket industry analyst of DJL Research in Wisconsin.
Bi-Lo Holdings acquired Winn-Dixie stores in 2012 after a merger, and the company has since added Piggly Wiggly stores and two other supermarket chains, Harveys and Reid's.
"Anytime there's a takeover, not everyone is going to be happy," Livingston said. "Their obligation is to the investors. Their job is to provide the best return on their investments. They're not a charity, and they're not going to keep people on just to be nice. They have to look at the labor costs at each store."
Frank Dell, a supermarket industry consultant in Stamford, Conn., said although Bi-Lo has kept many former Piggly Wiggly employees and some local products, their business model is entirely different from Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co.
"I don't think it's anything devious here, this is just a cultural difference between a family-run business and a big chain," Dell said. "Small businesses tend to have a greater percentage of full-time employees. For corporations ... if you want to stay competitive against Wal-Mart, you'll have greater percentages of part-time employees."
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail