Safeway, Giant Food begin recruiting temporary workers

Supermarkets negotiate with union representing 23,000 employees

March 06, 2012|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

Giant Food and Safeway, the Baltimore region's two largest supermarket chains, are recruiting temporary workers as contract negotiations continue with the union that represents 23,000 employees. The current agreement expires March 31.

The companies said hiring additional staffing was standard during contract talks. Safeway said in a newspaper advertisement that it was seeking applications for temporary workers "due to a possible labor dispute."

"In the event of a work stoppage, we'll be able to keep our stores up and running and serve our customers," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said Tuesday, noting that both grocers sought temporary workers during the last contract talks, in 2008. "It's standard contingency planning."

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 in Landover and Local 27 in Baltimore said there has been little progress in negotiations. The Baltimore-based local represents 8,500 Giant and Safeway cashiers, meat cutters, and produce and deli workers.

"It's still early," said Tim Goins, Local 27's executive vice president. "Negotiations are complex. They're always difficult, but they're very complex this time because of pension issues, health and welfare and severance."

UFCW Local 400 was more pointed in characterizing the negotiations, saying in a news release last week that Giant and Safeway management were pushing a contract "that would drive workers out of the middle class, undermine their health and retirement security, and squeeze even more profits out of their hard work."

Local 400's president, Tom McNutt, said the grocery chains have presented the union with more than 30 demands that would mean "thousands of dollars" out of workers' pockets.

Among the issues on the table are wages, benefits and other compensation issues, which union leaders and the grocers declined to detail.

The grocery business has changed dramatically in the past decades, with nonunion retailers grabbing market share from traditional union stores, which generally have higher labor costs.

The top three grocers in the Washington and Baltimore area — Giant, Safeway and Shoppers Food Warehouse — together held 43 percent of the market last year, according to Food World, a trade magazine. The remaining top 10 retailers include nonunion stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

"Over the long term, Giant's labor costs will present a tremendous challenge to maintaining or increasing our market share," Miller said.

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