Workers at Giant OK new contract A September strike averted at 45 stores in Baltimore, Shore

6,000 employees involved

Union members forced to accept wage package they spurned in March

July 17, 1996|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,SUN STAFF

There will be no food fight.

By nearly a 3-to-1 ratio, union members yesterday approved a collective bargaining agreement with Giant Food Inc. and averted a strike with the region's dominant supermarket chain.

But after more than six months of negotiations, the tally -- 1,816 for, 669 against -- failed to reflect reservations among members of Local 27 of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.

"It wasn't something that everyone was happy about. Certainly I wasn't happy about it," said local President Buddy Mays. "But in this day and age, you have to react with your head rather than your heart."

The union, which represents about 6,000 employees -- virtually every worker at all 45 estimated Giant supermarkets in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore -- rejected the Landover-based company's last offer March 21. The current four-year contract expires Sept. 21.

If Local 27 had rejected the company's final proposal yesterday, the union would have voted on whether to double its weekly dues for a strike fund. But it never came to that.

After additional talks between the two sides, Giant held its ground on wages but modified its proposal to address some union concerns, including stronger language to protect jobs in the event that the company is sold.

"We're pleased there was a settlement," said Giant Vice President Barry F. Scher. "So it's back to business as usual. We never missed a beat."

Actually, the retailer missed 3 1/2 hours yesterday, from 6: 30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The Giant supermarkets in the region were closed so union members could convene at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia and vote on the company's modified proposal for a (( new contract, which extends through March 2000.

The agreement, similar to those approved by Giant employees in Washington and Safeway workers in Washington and Baltimore, includes:

Increased job security. Under the current contract, according to the union, if the company is sold, the purchaser is obligated to take on 50 percent of the employees and is permitted to impose a 60-day probationary period. Under the new contract, the acquiring company would be required to take on all the employees without any probation.

Job security has become a critical issue, because of long-running speculation that London-based J. Sainsbury PLC, the No. 1 grocer in Britain and a minority owner of Giant, eventually will buy a controlling stake.

Wage increases. The company maintained the position in its March proposal, offering wage increases ranging from 60 cents per hour to $1 per hour over the life of the contract, the union said. Employees also will receive four bonuses, ranging from $200 to $1,500. The package includes increases in pension benefits and introduction of a 401(k) retirement plan beginning in January.

The union, however, would have preferred a wage increase over the bonuses, since raises provide more money over time.

Relax restrictive language. Job security will remain intact, the union said, but Giant will be allowed to operate in ways that the company said will better enable it to compete with nonunion supermarket chains. For example, outside vendors will be permitted to put merchandise on store shelves; until now, union members stocked the shelves.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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