- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

Negotiators continued talks as a contract deadline loomed tonight for 26,000 Giant and Safeway employees in Washington, Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.

The grocery chains and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 400 and 27 were still trying to come to terms with issues such as how to pay for health care coverage, as of late yesterday.

Grocery employees are scheduled to vote on a contract Tuesday morning at the D.C. Armory and at locations in Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. If there is no contract, or the employees don’t approve of it, the group can authorize a strike at that point.

“The union is prepared to bargain all the way up to 7:30 Tuesday morning,” said Mikki Harris, civil rights and community affairs coordinator at Local 400.

“Safeway, Giant and UFCW Locals 27 and 400 continue to work on the various issues confronting the parties in an attempt to reach a peaceful contract settlement this weekend,” Safeway posted yesterday on a Web site addressed to employees.

The contract covers 26,000 employees at Giant and Safeway stores in the Washington and Baltimore areas, as well as the Eastern shore. The main point of contention appears to be which party should cover rising health care costs. Under the current contract, the employer pays for health care for a majority of employees.

Pensions were a key point of contention in 2004. Those negotiations took on extra urgency after grocery employees went on strike for five months at stores in Southern California, including some Safeway stores.

Giant plans to close all of its Washington and Baltimore area stores from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday so that its union employees can vote on a contract, according to Local 400’s Web site. Safeway plans to keep its stores open and reschedule employees who want to attend the meeting.

Safeway and Giant have started hiring temporary employees, in case there is a strike, a common practice during contract negotiations.

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