Workers OK pacts at Giant, Safeway

Baltimore, District locals vote to accept by large margins

Grocery chains

March 22, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Union workers at Baltimore-Washington area Safeway Inc. and Giant Food Inc. stores overwhelmingly approved new labor contracts yesterday, winning increases in wages and benefits.

The new contracts also deny the chains' bid to change the way new employees are assigned and paid for work on Sunday, which has become the busiest grocery-shopping day of the week.

The four-year deals cover clerks, cashiers, meat cutters and other shop-floor workers in both chains and in both of the region's main unions.

Under the agreements, cashiers, department heads, meat department workers and nonfood clerks will get a 40-cent increase in hourly wages each year, while the yearly boosts for stockers and baggers will be 35 cents and 25 cents respectively.

Employees who have been on the job four years or more will get an additional, one-time "longevity increase" of 10 cents an hour.

The agreements also provide for increases in health benefits, pensions and severance pay. Safeway's ensures that all employees will be retained if the company is sold. Union officials said such an arrangement had proven beneficial to Giant workers when their company was sold to Royal Ahold NV of the Netherlands in 1998.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 represents 5,765 Giant workers and 2,089 Safeway employees in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore, while about 18,000 Washington-area employees of the two companies belong to UFCW Local 400.

Local 27's Giant workers voted 2,425-218 in favor of its contract, which goes into effect Sunday and expires in 2004. The local's Safeway work force favored its agreement 733-245.

Jim Lowthers, Local 400's president, declined to give specific vote totals for the Washington-area workers, but said the contracts' victory margin was about 5,800-100 among Giant workers and 1,700-500 among Safeway personnel.

"It's the best contract that's been negotiated in the grocery industry in 15 years in the Baltimore-Washington corridor," Lowthers said.

His counterpart at Local 27, Buddy Mays, said he was "ecstatic" about the agreements.

"In my opinion, it's the best contract that's been bargained in the country in retail food," Mays said. "It [contains] no concessions."

Harry W. Burton, a Washington labor lawyer who was the lead negotiator for the grocery chains, was more subdued, calling the contracts "a moderate package." There was no change in the pay scale for new employees on Sundays, when workers earn time-and-a-half or twice their normal hourly wages, depending on seniority. Burton said union benefits such as the Sunday pay rates may have to be re-examined in the future as nonunion stores such as Wal-Mart and Food Lion continue to expand.

"We don't begrudge our people a good premium on Sunday," Burton said. "The Sunday issue would not be an issue without nonunion competition. -- We are convinced that our associates understand that, in the long run, we have to meet that challenge before nonunion competition takes more of our market share."

Jeff Metzger, publisher of the trade journal Food World, said the unions had won "a healthy increase" in wages, but that the chains also gained something in the agreement.

"I'm sure they're glad this is behind them," Metzger said. "If nothing else, they've got the peace of mind that they'll have a very satisfied rank and file."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.