Giant Food Inc.'s warehouse workers overwhelmingly approved a 3 1/2 -year contract yesterday that protects jobs, improves health benefits and pensions and guards against unsafe production standards, union leaders and management said.
Workers voted 614 to 23 to ratify the contract for more than 1,000 employees at warehouses in Landover and Jessup, averting what would have been the second strike in a year against Giant.
"We won job security, our top priority," Roy Essex, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 730, said after the vote at a Teamsters hall in Washington. "As Giant grows, full-time jobs with good pay and benefits will grow, too."
Giant guaranteed that no warehouse workers would lose their jobs because of the use of outside contractors to deliver goods to stores.
"We also offered improved benefits to our Teamster associates at a time when other companies are scaling back such benefits," said Barry Scher, Giant's vice president of public affairs. In lieu of pay increases, employees will get $2,300 in bonuses over the term of the contract.
Contract language was similar to that agreed to by Teamsters drivers in January, when the drivers' local settled a five-week strike against the grocery chain. Giant guaranteed lifetime jobs for current drivers while securing the right to use outside distributors as it expands into Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
During negotiations with warehouse workers -- which had intensified over the past week as both sides prepared for the possibility of a strike -- management had asked to hire part-time workers as a way of competing against nonunion distributors. But management then dropped the request, which the Teamsters viewed as a victory.
"We're against expanding the part-time work force anywhere," said Gaye Williams, a spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "This is a company that has the ability to create good full-time jobs, with good pay and benefits."
The company's package included an expansion of the joint Teamster-employer health fund, to cover more immunizations and eliminate the $1,000 limit on newborn coverage, Williams said. Giant also made concessions on pensions, boosting contributions over the next three years to increase employees' benefits.
"This is a big win" for Local 730, Williams said. "They went through a rough time during the strike last year, honoring the picket line that the drivers set up."
Despite last winter's strike, which led to three consecutive quarters of lower earnings for Giant, the chain has remained the market leader. But the company has struggled to regain ground in a landscape in which chains such as Metro Food Markets, Food Lion and Safeway are expanding, and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Rite Aid have moved into food sales, said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a regional trade magazine. Much of the competition is nonunion, or uses nonunion distributors.
"It has become kind of a competitive gridlock, and everyone is sort of duking it out in the middle of the ring," Metzger said. "From an economic point of view, it's an uneven playing field. Giant is basically saying we need the option for flexibility in how we deliver and inventory products to our stores."