200 jobs to be eliminated at Giant distribution center

Employees to get hiring preference in other departments

May 02, 2011|By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

About 200 people — or nearly half the workers — who handle dry goods at the Jessup distribution center that serves Giant Food regionally will lose their jobs under a new contract negotiated with the union local, labor leaders said Monday.

But union leaders with Teamsters Local 730, which represents 430 dry-goods workers who serve the region's largest grocery store chain, said the employees would be offered buyouts and jobs in other parts of the company. The facility also employs 380 people in fresh produce and 200 truck drivers, as well as workers in recycling.

Giant Food outsourced the dry-goods part of its distribution facility to New Hampshire-based C&S Wholesale Grocers last year as a cost-saving measure. The grocer continues to run the fresh foods part of the facility as well as the transportation and recycling divisions.

Union leaders worried that C&S would shut down the dry-goods side of the business altogether and transfer the work to a facility in Pennsylvania that uses robotic technology and fewer employees. They also feared Giant might try to outsource the fresh-foods side of the business.

Ritchie Brooks, president of Local 730, said that while job losses are never good, the agreement was the best deal the union could hammer out.

"They have that machine that just does the work cheaper, and we couldn't compete, so that is why some of the workers are leaving," Brooks said. "We made the best of a bad situation. Everybody will have an opportunity to have a job or take the money and leave."

Workers also agreed to a $3-an-hour pay cut and will now pay 25 percent of their health insurance. Employees contributed nothing to health care coverage under previous contracts.

Bryan T. Granger, a spokesman for C&S, did not respond to phone calls and email messages Monday.

Teansters Local 730 also separately represents fresh-produce workers and Local 639 represents transportation workers. Giant came to separate four-year agreements with those employees, giving them a lump-sum bonus and a wage increase of 45 cents per hour. Giant also will continue to cover health insurance at no cost to those employees.

As part of the negotiations, Giant also took several steps to aid workers who will lose their jobs in the dry- goods division. The grocer is offering bonuses to employees in the fresh-foods division who voluntarily leave and will give hiring preference in that area to laid-off employees from the dry-goods side.

To help head off more cuts, Giant also lowered the cost C&S pays to lease the Jessup facility. In addition, Giant will offer free driver training to dry-goods workers and will offer them preferential hiring in the transportation department.

The grocer said it is saving C&S $3 million to $5 million, depending on how many workers take buyouts and voluntary retirements.

Giant also has agreed not to outsource the fresh-produce side of the business for three years.

"We are very pleased that we were able to come to an agreement," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Twitter.com: ankwalker

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