Union acts to protect jobs in sale of Giant Food workers local wants ban on divesting only unionized stores

Food

July 15, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Officials of Giant Food Inc.'s food workers union said yesterday that they plan to step up pressure to protect members' jobs as the Federal Trade Commission reviews the Landover-based chain's proposed sale to international food retailer Royal Ahold NV.

The FTC is expected to direct Ahold, as part of its purchase of Giant for $2.7 billion, to divest about five grocery stores in Maryland in areas where the Landover Giant competes with Giant Food Stores Inc. of Carlisle, Pa., another chain owned by Ahold. Because of antitrust regulations, the FTC would require that stores be sold to another supermarket chain rather than closed.

Both of Giant's Frederick stores were on a tentative list being reviewed by the FTC, Giant officials said last week. Giant also competes directly with Martin's Food Markets, operated by the Carlisle Giant, in Eldersburg, Westminster and Bel Air.

Yesterday, during a rally outside the Giant supermarket in Eldersburg, Buddy Mays, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27, called for elected officials to intervene in the FTC review. Mays, whose local represents 6,300 Giant workers, also said the local has hired an attorney who is seeking to represent union workers' position before the FTC. The local is also considering filing charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.

"We believe that Royal Ahold of the Netherlands has secretly and behind closed doors, through the FTC process, targeted to divest only Giant stores," Mays said. "Why Giant stores? Because only Giant stores are union.

"We at UFCW Local 27 believe that Giant Food will do anything to complete the FTC process, at any cost to their employees and the local communities."

The local represents 800 Giant workers at the five Maryland stores, Mays said.

In a targeted area, the decision of whether to close a Giant or a Martin's store would be left to Ahold. The FTC would have more influence in areas where more than two stores compete, said Gary Preston, executive vice president of Ahold USA in Atlanta.

Preston denied charges that Ahold plans to target only unionized Giant stores.

"If the FTC says you have to close either the Martin's or Giant, we don't make that decision based on whether it's union or nonunion," Preston said yesterday.

Instead, he said, the company looks at what makes the most economic sense.

"There are a lot of variables that go into each decision. Some stores are older, some are newer. Some of them service more customers," he said. "We take a look at how that store is going. Is it profitable? We try to minimize the impact to the employees and customers and shareholders and try to make the best decision for all."

The FTC has not issued a final decision.

Whether divesting Giant or Martin's stores, "we would hope either way that a new buyer would be interested in experienced employees to help them run the store," Preston said. "Hopefully, there would be opportunities with our own store network, but if they want to go to work for a new buyer that's fine too."

Union officials said neither Giant nor Martin's stores should have to close. Stiff competition from grocery retailers other than Ahold would prevent Ahold from gaining a monopoly in the targeted areas, Mays said.

"I'm not looking to put anybody out of work," he said. "I'm looking to protect the jobs in Maryland. There's no reason to close any of the stores. You're comparing apples with oranges. Giant is a specialty store, and Martin's is a price-driven store."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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