The head of the union that represents more than 12,000 workers at Tops Markets issued a statement Sunday in response to reports the grocery chain was exploring a bankruptcy filing.
Frank DeRiso, president of UFCW Local One, said the union has been monitoring the finances of the company and has been meeting with its own financial advisers over the past several months.
"Since mid-January, UFCW Local One has been consulted by our legal team consisting of health care, pension and 401(k) attorneys and an attorney that specializes in restructuring and bankruptcy filings," DeRiso said. "We have additional meetings set up this coming week to discuss more strategies to hit this situation head-on."
Bloomberg reported Saturday that the owner of Tops Friendly Markets reportedly is exploring filing for bankruptcy and it could come as early as next month.
The supermarket chain is based in Williamsville, and has about 170 stores in New York, northern Pennsylvania, and western Vermont. Tops employs approximately 15,000 people and operates more than a dozen stores in Monroe County.
It's unclear what immediate impact a bankruptcy filing would have on employees, or whether the move might lead to any stores being closed.
Efforts to reach Tops and its spokesperson during the weekend were unsuccessful.
Citing "people familiar with that situation," Bloomberg reported that, "with low margins and ample competition, the grocery business has always been challenging. But now the industry is contending with a more aggressive push by big-box retailers and Amazon.com Inc., which acquired Whole Foods last year to give it a larger brick-and-mortar presence. The moves threaten to force older chains to either consolidate or revamp their operations."
The move would allow the company to seek court protection from its creditors. A 2017 report from Reuters said the supermarket chain had a $723 million debt load.
DeRiso noted that the company hired a private investment firm in January to help it restructure what he described as its "enormous debt."
A Reuters report last month said that in addition to its debt, Tops has significant pension liabilities. Regulatory filings suggest the grocer could owe as much as $184 million, stemming from a 2013 acquisition of a logistics firm that operates its warehouses in upstate New York.
While the specter of bankruptcy is sure to cause anxiety for employees concerned about their future, DeRiso said the union's contract remained in full effect, and the company was continuing to meet its responsibilities to workers.
"Currently Tops Markets is paying all contractual obligations including health, pension and 401(k) contributions," he said. "We are monitoring this situation daily and will keep members informed of new developments."