- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Safeway and Giant have arranged to hire more than 3,200 temporary employees to fill in for any union workers who walk out on strike if management and labor fail to resolve their contract dispute by the deadline Tuesday, company officials said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is predicting food supply shortages and shorter hours at Giant and Safeway stores if workers vote to strike.

“Safeway has taken the steps necessary to make sure our stores will be open in the event of a work stoppage,” said Greg TenEyck, Safeway Inc. spokesman. “I can’t go into specifics but just rest assured our stores will be stocked.”

Safeway plans to use management staff to assist the 1,700 temporary employees. The company is running newspaper ads this weekend to hire more employees in case the two sides fail to reach an agreement.

Giant is taking similar measures to continue operating.

“We’ve hired over 1,500 temporary workers at this point,” said Barry Scher, spokesman for Giant Food LLC. “We have contingency plans.”

Safeway and Giant are negotiating together in the dispute over wages and health care benefits.

Harry Burton, their lead negotiator, said negotiations are likely to continue to the strike deadline.

“It could very well,” Mr. Burton said. “We’re still negotiating hard.”

The UFCW contract would affect about 18,000 grocery workers in the Washington area and another 10,000 in the Baltimore area.

The companies want to reduce wages and health care benefits to be able to compete more effectively against non-union stores, such as Food Lion and Wal-Mart. They are trying to institute a two-tier pay scale that would pay entry-level employees at a lower rate than more experienced workers.

UFCW Local 400 does not want to relinquish on issues such as “decent health care for workers,” said Greg Denier, a UFCW coordinator who is organizing a strike protest against Safeway and Giant.

He also said the grocery stores are overly optimistic if they believe their operations will not be interrupted.

“They would not have employees to staff and stock the stores,” he said. “They would experience very poor service levels. We would expect that deliveries would not be made to the stores.”

He said the temporary employees are not likely to provide adequate service.

“Scabs tend to be people who can’t get other jobs,” Mr. Denier said.

During a strike against Safeway and other groceries in Southern California, Mr. Denier said strikers were able to shut down 70 percent of the stores’ business.

The 20-week strike idled 59,000 workers at 859 stores. It ended Feb. 29 when the unions ratified an agreement that was mostly a victory for the store owners. It included a two-tier pay scale similar to what Giant and Safeway seek for Washington area workers.

Safeway and Giant operate 325 grocery stores in the Washington and Baltimore areas, or about 70 percent of the major supermarket industry.

Other unions are pledging support if the grocery workers strike.

“We believe in the fight for health care and wages,” said Rob Black, Teamsters Union spokesman.

He said Teamsters truck drivers who make deliveries for Safeway and Giant are unlikely to cross picket lines.

In the California dispute, “Our guys didn’t cross,” Mr. Black said.

The AFL-CIO Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO has been seeking support for the unions among religious and other non-profit organizations.

They include the Gray Panthers, Jobs With Justice and local church leaders from several denominations.

“If we get the word from [UFCW Local] 400 things aren’t working out, we go to the mats,” said Chris Garlock, “Street Heat” coordinator for the AFL-CIO Metropolitan Washington Council.

However, he is holding out hope for a settlement before Tuesday.

“The feeling we’re getting from Local 400 is that things may settle out,” Mr. Garlock said. “We’re feeling kind of hopeful. We’ve still got a couple of days here.”

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