Teamsters fail to widen Giant strike Local 639 attempts to block Reading food distribution center

Picketing plan backfires

Other union members angered

suppliers keep shelves stocked

December 28, 1996|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The striking Teamster truck drivers of Local 639 moved their picket line to Reading, Pa., yesterday, hoping to slow deliveries of supplies headed toward Baltimore-Washington area Giant Food stores.

But their plan backfired.

Instead, they angered their fellow Teamsters in Pennsylvania and failed to disrupt what appears to be a steady stream of goods flowing to Giant's stores from outside suppliers.

The 320 truck drivers went on strike nearly two weeks ago, largely in an effort to get Giant Food Inc. to agree not to hire wholesale distributors, a big issue because the grocery chain has plans to open 40 new stores in southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the next several years. Both sides have said the central issue for them is the future. The company wants the flexibility to use the most efficient and cost-effective suppliers. The union fears that the use of outside suppliers will diminish the numbers of union members and its clout.

Giant has been able to keep its stores stocked by hiring a dozen outside wholesale food distributors to deliver goods directly to individual stores. The union had hoped to keep some of those goods from reaching the stores.

But before union members went to Supervalu, a wholesale food distribution center in Reading, and set up a picket line, they neglected to contact the local union there to get permission.

"I was quite shocked," said Ron Kisteler, president of Local 429 in Reading. "They didn't have the authorization to set up an extension of the picket lines outside Washington. I am very irritated. He [Local 639 Vice President John Steger] is trying to put 300 people in jeopardy."

Kisteler said his members have a clause in their contract that says they can be fired if they participate in a work stoppage when there is no labor problem between 429 and the employer.

"What aggravates me is this guy never got clearance. He never talked to me. This guy thinks I am going to jeopardize 315 or 320 jobs," said Kisteler, who said the pickets left before mid-afternoon.

Steger said, in response: "We don't see it that way."

Yesterday's picket line "was a little signal that they [Giant] will get more if they don't settle this," Steger said.

A Giant spokesman did not seem worried, however. "We have so many suppliers," Barry Scher said. "If any one is dropped, we would not miss a heartbeat. We will not have any difficulties."

While Local 429 truck drivers drove through Local 639's picket line in Reading, Kisteler said his members would not cross any picket lines in front of a Giant store.

Supplies have kept getting through, however, because the drivers have been "surrendering vehicles to Giant representatives" before they get to the stores, said Supervalu spokeswoman Deborah Erickson. The Giant representative then makes the final delivery to the store.

"We won't cross the picket lines there," said Erickson, whose company is supplying 93 Giant stores with some produce. "It's business as usual."

Local 639 made a second attempt yesterday to get help with the strike when they met with leaders of locals 400 and 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, who represent nearly all of the workers inside the Giant stores, including checkout clerks. Steger said he was encouraged by the discussions, but would not divulge details.

The UFCW international leadership must sanction a strike before its members can walk out. But Giant has plans to continue staffing its stores even if the UFCW does walk out in sympathy with the Teamsters, said Scher.

Most analysts think it is unlikely that most of the 20,000 clerks, who are part-time employees averaging $11.75 an hour, would walk out for the Teamsters, who earn nearly $20 an hour.

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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