Monday, March 24, 2008

Grocers, unions gird for strike

Contract talks bogged down with Giant Food, Safeway

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Contract negotiations between two of Maryland’s largest private employers and employee unions are going slowly, and union leaders are preparing for a strike, according to information on the Internet site of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.

Union leaders and negotiators for grocers Giant Food LLC and Safeway met late last week, but the sides did not make any progress on issues such as medical insurance benefits, the union site says. Negotiations will continue starting today, and a members’ vote on a proposal is scheduled for April 1 at the D.C. National Guard Armory in Washington.

‘‘Strike preparations have gone very well and will be completely in place by Wednesday, March 26,” the union site says.

Representatives for the grocers and union could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The contract talks are being combined with those conducted by UFCW Local 27 in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore. Meetings for those members to vote on the proposal are also slated for April 1 at the Baltimore Convention Center and American Legion Post 91 in Cambridge.

A contract hammered out in 2004 covered about 18,000 Giant and Safeway workers in suburban Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, and 12,000 in the Baltimore area. That contract expires this weekend.

Safeway recently ran advertisements in The Washington Post seeking applications for temporary employees ‘‘in preparation for a possible labor dispute,” while Giant ran a similar ad without mentioning labor issues, according to published reports.

Giant, the region’s top grocer, has about 13,400 employees in Maryland, and the company ranked fifth in the number of employees in Maryland among private companies, according to a survey released last year by the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Safeway ranked ninth in the number of employees in Maryland with 8,680, according to the state survey.