WASHINGTON -- Giant Food Inc.'s striking truck drivers voted overwhelmingly yesterday to ratify a contract that trades financial concessions for job security.
The strike against Giant, the longest in the company's history, ended in a northeast Washington union hall filled with cheering, sometimes tearful truck drivers and their families, as the Teamsters voted 247-25 in favor of the contract, which goes into effect immediately.
Both Teamsters Local 639 and the company declared that they had gotten what they needed most.
"We have some real, lifetime job security. That is what this is about," said John Steger, the local's vice president and chief negotiator.
Roger D. Olson, chief negotiator for Giant, said, "I don't feel we have compromised our ability to do our business."
On the most contentious issue -- whether Giant would continue to have the right to hire subcontractors or wholesale food distributors to deliver goods directly to their stores -- the two sides split the difference.
It may take a few days, but all the popular Giant brands from yogurt to bagels will soon be back on store shelves.
The Teamsters will continue to deliver most of the products in Giant's stores from its Landover warehouse and other Maryland facilities, with the union's current members guaranteed lifetime truck-driving jobs with Giant.
However, the company will have the right to hire subcontractors for some perishable items delivered in the Baltimore-Washington area.
And it has complete flexibility to use subcontractors in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where the chain has begun an ambitious expansion.
The union offered some financial incentives to encourage the company to turn to its Teamsters drivers rather than wholesale food distributors to supply the new stores in the Delaware Valley. Drivers will work a 10-hour-a-day, four-day workweek that gives the company more flexibility to send them on long runs without paying overtime.
In addition, it will pay truck drivers $18.50 an hour instead of their usual $19.07 when they make deliveries in any of the three states.
Each union member, however, will receive a $500 annual bonus for five years.
"We are saving $400,000 a year as a result of the changes negotiated in this contract," Olson said. But he acknowledged that the contract was won "at great expense to the people and the company. It is unfortunate."
Most drivers seemed relieved and happy as they met yesterday to vote. Before the final vote, Local 639 President Phillip Feaster said to the crowd, "Accept it big and proud, and let's get the hell back to work."
But some workers were angry.
"We gave everything away that we were fighting for," said one truck driver who asked not to be identified. "We went out for five weeks for the Delaware Valley, and we didn't get it."
The 35-day strike left Giant, the region's largest supermarket chain with 174 stores, struggling to keep its customers. Its stores had intermittent shortages, and its popular Giant-brand dairy and bakery products and dry goods disappeared for a period from the shelves.
During the strike, Teamsters went five weeks without a paycheck, which for most members is at least $1,000 a week. Sources indicated that members were growing weary and were putting pressure on Steger to bring a contract proposal to a vote.
The strike also brought a month without pay or benefits to more than 2,000 families of warehouse, dairy and bakery workers who were idled over the Christmas season because the company had no way to deliver the products they produced to the stores.
As word of the strike's end reached Giant stores yesterday, customers at a few of the company's Baltimore-area supermarkets looked forward to seeing fully stocked shelves.
"I'm really glad it's over," said Ommar Mahallale-El, 52, a Pimlico resident and Giant customer for more than 20 years. He was shopping at the store in the 3700 block of Old Court Road in Pikesville.
"It was tough for a while finding Giant-brand products," Mahallale-El said. "I had trouble getting the bread and dairy items I usually buy."
In a conciliatory tone, Steger said that the Teamsters appreciated the support of the public during the strike, but that "this is over now, and we want to see the customers back."
Pub Date: 1/20/97