Safeway, Teamsters reach accord 800 distribution jobs stay in Maryland at current pay levels

Governor's efforts succeed

Chain will build $85 million center in Prince George's

June 14, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- With the help of state mediation, Safeway and four Teamsters union locals reached a contract agreement yesterday that will keep the company's regional distribution center and its 800 jobs in Maryland at current wage levels.

The accord, which was brokered by the Glendening administration, ensures that Safeway will build an $85 million facility in Prince George's County rather than farm out the work to an out-of-state contractor.

It came after months of acrimonious negotiations during which the grocery chain had sought severe wage and benefit cuts.

Safeway dropped those demands after the union agreed to cost-saving changes in work rules.

The deal was a clear-cut win for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whose administration received credit from both sides for breaking a months-long logjam.

The governor announced the settlement yesterday on the sweltering blacktop of Safeway's deteriorating 44-year-old distribution center in Landover.

Surrounded by company and union officials, he beamed as rank-and-file drivers and warehousemen chanted his three favorite words: "Four More Years."

Yesterday's agreement was directly attributable to the governor's intervention, union and company officials said.

They also gave credit to his secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, Eugene A. Conti Jr., and Ricky Feller, senior adviser of labor-management relations, for their hands-on work in mediating the dis-pute. "Without Gene and the governor, it never would have happened," said Teamsters negotiator Mark Junod. Glendening, he said, "was willing to dig into a very explosive situation, and very embarrassing if it did explode."

Glenn Davis, chief financial officer for Safeway's Eastern region, said the governor's representatives helped both sides "think out of the box" in designing a creative solution that avoided wage cuts while satisfying the company's need for about $7 million in annual cost savings.

Union officials estimated that the cuts would have meant an average loss of $9,000 a year for warehousemen and $18,000 a year for truck drivers. In the end, they accepted a wage freeze with a generous buyout package.

Glendening took advantage of the festive gathering to take a mild swipe at the media for critical coverage of his labor-relations policies, suggesting they can't believe that a governor can understand the issues of both labor and management.

He noted that the administration also played a role last month in the settlement of a strike at Rosecroft Raceway, where Conti also acted as mediator.

The path to agreement at Safeway was also smoothed by a healthy infusion of taxpayers' money in the form of economic development incentives for Safeway to build its massive new facility at Route 301 and Central Avenue.

Conti said the incentives, which will go for purposes such as job training, will amount to about $2 million -- $400,000 a year for each of the five years of the union contract.

Eddie Vader, business agent of Teamsters Local 246, said that represents a good investment because losing the 700 union and 100 nonunion jobs would have taken about $40 million in taxable income out of the Maryland economy.

But one prominent Republican legislator warned that the infusion of tax dollars could set "a bad precedent."

"Any time there's an impasse in negotiations between labor and management, now we're going to have people saying now if you'll just come up with some economic development money we'll be happy to settle this," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County.

But the hundreds of Teamsters who gathered by their aged workplace yesterday were not worried about precedent. They were approaching anyone with a notebook in hand and singing the governor's praises as if auditioning for a campaign commercial.

Pete Brichant, a truck driver who had been facing a $18,000-a-year wage cut, called the contract "fantastic" and credited Glendening.

"He worked with us hand-in-hand through the entire negotiations. He put the pressure on Safeway," said the 23-year veteran.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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