Teamsters hoping Giant strike spreads Cashiers and clerks may soon be deciding whether to go out

December 24, 1996|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

About 20,000 Giant Food Inc. cashiers and clerks may soon have to decide if they will walk off the job in support of striking Teamsters truck drivers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) expected to decide in the next several days whether it will endorse a strike by Giant's 320 truck drivers that began 10 days ago.

The international UFCW leadership has received a request from Teamsters Local 639, asking it to honor the Teamsters strike. If the leadership agrees to sanction the action, each of the UFCW's 20,000 workers would have to make their own decision about whether to walk the picket line with the Teamsters or go to work as usual.

If the strike spreads, the dominant supermarket chain in the region might have difficulty keeping all of its 174 area stores open, analysts have said. Several store workers, interviewed yesterday, said they probably would not walk off the job in support of the Teamsters, especially Christmas week.

Steve Piper, who works in the produce department at the Rotunda Giant in Baltimore, said he couldn't go out because he needs a Christmas paycheck.

"Everybody's got mixed feelings," he said. "Believe me, I would like to help them [the truckers] out and everything."

Said another Rotunda employee, who asked not to be identified: "I probably wouldn't [walk out] because I have a family."

If several thousand workers walked out, Giant officials have said, Giant could have to "consolidate" operations, temporarily transferring workers to different locations to keep stores open.

How many of those workers went out would be crucial for the Teamsters and the company. So far, Giant has kept its stores supplied without major shortages by hiring wholesale distributors to deliver products directly to individual stores. But a major walkout by the UFCW workers would put more pressure on the supermarket.

"The support is greatly needed and the support should be there," said Teamsters Local 639 President Phillip Feaster. "I hope Local 27 and Local 400 [the UFCW locals] understand that the whole labor movement in this region is looking at this."

The strike dragged on yesterday with no further negotiations, and none scheduled. Last Friday night, the two sides met with a federal mediator for the first time. However, Commissioner Leo A. Gant said yesterday, "Nothing was really accomplished."

Feaster said a union meeting was scheduled for last night to discuss strategy and to update the members.

Meanwhile, about 2,100 Teamsters who are in a different local than the striking truck drivers are waiting to hear whether they will receive unemployment benefits. Because of the strike, Giant was forced to close down its dairy and baking production facilities in Landover and Jessup because there was no work for its employees. Warehouse workers were also told not to report to work.

However, those workers also said previously they would honor the Teamsters picket lines and are eligible for strike benefits, Feaster said.

Yesterday, the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board formally decided to review the case. It will meet in early January to decide whether the 2,100 workers will receive benefits because the facilities in which they work were shut down.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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