Giant's truck drivers declare strike as contract expires Company says stores are well-stocked for next several weeks

Labor relations

December 17, 1996|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Unless an agreement can be reached by the wee hours of tomorrow, Giant Food Inc. will be forced to shut down its dairy, baking and distribution facilities as nearly 2,000 workers continue a strike begun Sunday.

But Giant officials said everything from fresh turkeys to oranges would still be available at stores in the next several weeks, even ++ if the truck drivers who distribute the food from Giant's Landover warehouse to 127 stores in the Baltimore and Washington area continued their strike.

"Our stores are stocked now to the point where we will be able to fulfill our needs for a week or two," said Roger D. Olson, Giant's senior vice president of labor and personnel. In addition, Olson said wholesale distributors, including Richfood Holdings Inc. and SuperValu Inc., will deliver to their stores to take up any slack.

The strike began Sunday, hours after a contract expired. Under their labor agreement, the Teamsters must continue to deliver perishable foods for 72 hours so that the food will not spoil. That 72-hour period ends at 3 a.m. tomorrow, and no talks were expected before then.

If the strike continues for weeks, Olson acknowledged, customers could see a reduction in choice. For instance, instead of five brands of baby food, a customer might find only three, he said.

The biggest question remaining yesterday was whether the 20,000 United Food and Commercial Workers in the Baltimore and Washington area would honor the picket lines at Giant stores, which are expected to go up tomorrow if the strike continues.

The Teamsters contract with Giant covers 320 truck drivers.

However, several other Teamster locals representing thousands of people working in Giant's baking and dairy processing centers and warehouse in Landover and Jessup agreed not to cross the truck drivers' picket line.

No negotiations were scheduled for today, said Olson and Phillip Feaster, president of the drivers' Teamsters Local 639, leaving little chance that the strike could be settled quickly.

However, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has asked Eugene Conti, secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, to help mediate the dispute as he did when Safeway workers were threatening to strike last summer. That was resolved when the union made concessions in order to keep workers' jobs. Safeway had threatened to close a warehouse in Landover and move its operation out of state.

The main dispute between the Giant and the Teamsters revolves around similar issues. Giant's management argues that since there has been parity between Safeway and Giant employees in the past, the Teamsters should accept a similar contract.

Giant, arguing the need to remain competitive, wants the flexibility to hire nonunion drivers, while giving current employees job security.

But Feaster said that would mean reductions in union membership over time. In addition, he said, Giant, which is a profitable company, is refusing to give its truck drivers any raise for the next five years. Instead, the company is offering a $500-a-year bonus for the next five years. The union has asked for a $1,500 bonus a year and a $1.25-an-hour raise on the last day of the contract, in 2001.

The Giant truck drivers now earn $19.07 an hour, while Safeway drivers earn $19.50 an hour. But Olson said that, including benefits, Giant drivers earn $28.10 while Safeway's earn $25.94.

"I think this is a real crossroads contract. These issues are very important," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade journal. Giant believes it needs to be able to use some nonunion distributors in order to remain competitive, he said. "It is a matter of a level playing field."

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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