Teamsters, Giant to hold talks this week Contract expires Nov. 8 for 1,000 at 2 warehouses


October 29, 1997|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

As they approach a Nov. 8 contract expiration, Giant Food Inc. and a Teamsters local representing warehouse workers are expected to negotiate some of the same contentious issues that led to a five-week strike by Teamster drivers last winter.

Giant said negotiations will resume with two scheduled sessions this week, but said the most intensive talks traditionally have taken place shortly before the contract expires. As always, the company will be stocking its stores in case of a strike, said Barry Scher, Giant's vice president of public affairs.

While Giant negotiates dozens of union contracts, the deal with its warehouse workers is considered one of the most important because it involves its entire warehouse operation with more than 1,000 employees.

If the Teamsters Local 730 were to walk out, as the truck drivers did in December, the company's warehouses in Landover and Jessup would be shut down, forcing the company to use outside distributors to deliver groceries to the 174 Giant Food stores between Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The 35-day drivers' strike arose over Giant's right to hire subcontractors or to use wholesale food distributors to deliver goods directly to its stores.

The drivers' union, Teamsters Local 639, wanted assurances that the company would not contract out the work to distributors, close down the warehouses, and eliminate its jobs and those of the warehouse workers.

When the strike ended, the drivers' union had won a lifetime job guarantee for its current membership, but Giant had gained the right to use subcontractors in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, where it has been expanding. In addition, the company can subcontract perishable goods that now go through a warehouse.

Neither side would discuss the issues being negotiated, but Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a regional trade magazine, said they will likely be similar. The Teamsters will try to protect jobs, and Giant will try to maintain its flexibility over distribution.

Giant, which is the market leader in both Washington and Baltimore, is facing more competition in the Baltimore area where Metro Food Markets, Food Lion and Safeway are expanding.

And not only are other stores elbowing into Giant's territory, the other chains have lower labor costs and lower profit margins.

Metro is partially unionized and has the advantage of being owned by a wholesale food distributor, Richfood Holdings Inc., which supplies all the stores so that Metro needs no warehousing. Food Lion is a nonunion company with lower profit margins than Giant.

One Teamster, who asked not to be identified, said Giant has asked for the flexibility to hire part-time workers, apparently so that it does not have to pay full-time workers overtime.

In addition, the source said the company wants workers to agree to a split work week, so that they could be required to work Sunday. Currently, the warehouse workers work either a Monday through Friday week or Tuesday through Saturday week.

Last winter's strike caused financial problems for the chain, which saw profits dip as it struggled to lure customers back with promotions. The Teamsters' pocketbooks suffered as well.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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