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Latest News - March 2012

March 5, 2012
‘We will not bend or buckle,’ grocery union says to Safeway, Giant Food
Source: Maryland Community News Online
By: Lindsey Robbins

As contract deadline nears, workers file grievance with labor board

With a month left on its four-year contract, the union representing about 17,000 grocery workers in the Washington, D.C., region says it has taken its fight to a federal labor board, claiming its rights are being violated.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, whose members work at the 126 Giant Food and Safeway supermarkets in the region, said it has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. It charges the grocers with posting advertisements for replacement workers; prohibiting workers from handing out business cards stating their position in the union and seeking support in the contract negotiations; and enacting social media regulations.

Nancy Cleeland, a spokeswoman with the board, confirmed on Monday the union filed a complaint Wednesday, but she could not “pull up the charges.”

Most of the companies’ actions are similar to those taken during contract talks four years ago, said Harry Burton, a negotiations spokesman for both Safeway and Giant. The current contract expires March 31.

Union workers say they hope to stave off any wage or benefit cuts. Union leaders have said they would push workers to strike if a new pact is not reached by the deadline.

"For the past 30 years, our members sacrificed to make Giant and Safeway the leaders in our area and now, all we ask is for the companies to share the fruits of our labor,” Local 400 President Tom McNutt said in a statement. “In response, we get a boot heel on our back. But our members are standing tall. We will not bend or buckle no matter what management does.”

Burton said the grocers usually seek out replacement workers as a defensive action in case of a strike.

“Any union has a right to strike,” Burton said. “An employer has a choice to make: whether to serve the customers or not.”

He said employees are allowed to distribute their business cards and ask for support outside the stores, but not inside, on the sales floor. Burton said this is a standard procedure.

Burton also said the social media concerns were brought up months before the negotiations began, and said the policy primarily prohibits workers from posting disparaging comments about their employers.

“We believe we should be able to come to a reasonable contract, but we need all four parties to participate and cooperate,” he said.

Local 400, along with Local 27, have been meeting with the grocers since January. Local 27 members work at Giant Food stores in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore.

"... Giant and Safeway management refuses to negotiate in good faith, instead presenting us with a list of more than 30 demands that will take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of our members and into the already-overflowing wallets of top executives and shareholders," McNutt said. "This is not about economic necessity — rather, it's about unvarnished corporate greed.”

Giant Food, a division of Royal Ahold of the Netherlands, has its regional headquarters in Landover, while Safeway, a Pleasanton, Calif., chain, has its Eastern division headquarters in Lanham. When compared with other grocers, Safeway and Giant Food combined hold almost 60 percent of the Baltimore-Washington market share. But that drops to 35 percent when taking into account all businesses that sell grocery products, such as drugstores, according to the June publication of Food World, a trade publication. Nonunion companies account for most of the top 10 market leaders.

“Giant is an industry leader in retail pay, and our contract proposals will ensure that our associates continue to be among the highest compensated retail grocery workers in the Washington-Baltimore region, while also positioning Giant to effectively compete in a growing marketplace,” Giant said in a statement.

“While Giant does not want a work stoppage — and does not believe there’s a reason for one — we must be prepared to keep our stores open and provide the outstanding quality and service that our customers have come to expect,” Giant wrote.

During negotiations four years ago, health insurance was a key sticking point. The groups agreed current employees would not pay insurance premiums, but the annual deductibles of those hired before 2004 would increase from $200 to $300 per person. New hires also would pay $5 per week for individual plans and as much as $15 for a family, while paying a $300 deductible. The contract also called for a one-time, 11.5 percent cut on the grocers’ projected cost for health coverage




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