MAHONING VALLEY Despite picketing, Marc's plans to stay

Union members have been picketing at the Austintown store for two weeks.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A top official for Cleveland-based Marc's said the retailer is in the Mahoning Valley to stay, despite a local union's campaign urging consumers not to shop at its stores.
Local 880 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been conducting what it calls a "union awareness" campaign, which includes television commercials and daily picketing at Marc's Austintown store on Mahoning Avenue.
All of Marc's 48 stores in the Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown area are nonunion. The pickets and the television ads are urging shoppers to patronize unionized stores.
"We're disappointed," said Mike Tomko, vice president of store operations for Marc's. "Obviously, whatever their agenda is, it is not being well received by our employees or our customers."
Tomko said the pickets have blocked traffic in some cases. Marc's has not taken legal steps to intervene, relying instead on local police to control the situation.
Competition theory
Marc's officials suspect the union activity was sparked by unionized retailers in the area who are worried about the added competition, Tomko said. "There's plenty [of business] to go around. Let everybody do what they do best."
Gary Weitzel, a spokesman for Local 880, acknowledged that the informational campaign is aimed at protecting the jobs of union workers whose employers compete with Marc's.
He said the union is targeting Mahoning Valley stores, especially the Austintown store, because of the region's historical support of labor unions.
Weitzel said the union took its campaign to the Boardman Marc's briefly Saturday, setting up a 35-foot inflatable rat nearby with plans to hold a rally. Members removed the eye-catching character when security officers advised that it was in violation of local ordinances.
Other unions
Pickets at the Austintown store were joined Saturday by supporters from several other area labor unions, he said, including the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers of America and some construction trade unions.
He said Local 880 plans to continue picketing at the Austintown store indefinitely. He would like to do the same in Boardman but doesn't have enough staff to run two picket sites. A Marc's store in Salem has not been picketed.
Tomko said the picketing won't scare Marc's away. "We're not going anywhere," he said. "We've invested a ton of money to refurbish these stores. We didn't come into this market to run away from anything."