- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

Grocers Giant Food and Safeway reached a tentative contract agreement yesterday, just hours after its contract with employees expired Saturday night, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The employees are scheduled to vote on the tentative agreement tomorrow at the D.C. Armory and locations in Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. The contract covers 26,000 grocery employees — members of UFCW Locals 400 and 27 — in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

If the employees do not accept the contract, they could vote to strike.

UFCW had threatened that it was ready to strike if Giant and Safeway didn’t meet its requirements on health care and pension costs. Its Web site still says strike preparations are in place.

Giant plans to close all of its stores from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. tomorrow to enable employees to participate in the vote. Safeway plans to keep its stores open and allow employees who want to vote to attend.

The UFCW announced the tentative agreement yesterday, but declined to provide details until the members vote tomorrow. The attorney representing Giant and Safeway in the talks did not return requests for comment.

“The coordinated effort in Baltimore-Washington is part of a UFCW nationwide unity bargaining program,” the UFCW said. “By supporting each other regionally and nationally, as well as engaging customers and community members in their struggle, grocery workers are improving grocery industry jobs for themselves and their communities.”

The major point of contention in the talks was expected to be whether employees or employers should fund health care and pension costs, expenses that have risen dramatically since the last contract was signed in March 2004.

The union argues that those fees should not be passed on to employees, while the employers say those costs and others make it hard to compete with nonunion grocers and shops, such as Wal-Mart.

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