Giant and Safeway ratified their 3-year contract agreement by standing vote at the D.C. Armory on Dec 17, 2013. Photo by Bill Burke.

Giant and Safeway ratified their 3-year contract agreement by standing vote at the D.C. Armory on Dec 17, 2013. Photo by Bill Burke.

Maintains Health Benefits, Retirement Security, Standard of Living
LANDOVER, Md., December 17 — Members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 today voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement with Giant and Safeway that preserves their health and retirement security and increases their wages.

The bargaining was difficult and protracted, largely due to complications and additional costs imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but after a sustained campaign of member activism, management and UFCW Local 400 were able hammer out a strong contract. Notably, it is one of the few collective bargaining agreements reached in the retail food industry this year that continues employer-provided health care coverage for all current employees and most future employees. It also includes health care “Maintenance of Benefits,” meaning that Giant and Safeway will contribute whatever is necessary to the health care fund to pay all benefits.

“This is one of the best retail food contracts in the country,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “Unlike many other agreements, our members will keep their current health care benefits and won’t be forced onto the inferior plans offered through the ACA’s health care exchanges. Giant and Safeway will pay all benefits in full through the life of the contract and our members’ pensions will be properly funded.

“In addition, the collective bargaining agreement increases our members’ standard of living, and it’s one of the few contracts in the country providing all of its economic benefits in the form of hourly wage increases rather than a one-time bonus,” Federici said.

“It is the activism of our members that enabled us to achieve these gains and defeat management givebacks at the bargaining table,” Federici said. “Their dedication and solidarity in fighting for a better future is the reason why we have an industry-leading contract.”

“I’ve worked at Giant for more than 38 years and served on the Local 400 Executive Board and every Bargaining Advisory Committee for the last 28 years,” said Michelle Hepner, who works at Giant #243. “We’ve never had negotiations as tough as these, with two contract extensions. Management showed their greed and disrespect for us, but we worked long and hard and got a very good contract that keeps our health care, our pension, and premium pay for Sundays and holidays. We should vote to accept it.”

Vivian Sigouin, a Bargaining Advisory Committee member who works at Safeway #1431, said, “From what we started with, when the company proposed taking away part-time and spousal health care and taking away Sunday and holiday pay, we’ve come a long way. We have worked together as a union, we showed we are a union.”

“Management wanted to take everything away from us,” said Maria Gomez, a member of the Bargaining Advisory Committee who works at Giant #799. “But we told the companies we are strong. We told them we are ready to fight. And that is what made the difference.”

“It’s a great contract,” said Kuljeet Rathorne, who works at Safeway #1417. “We need money for food and bills so we wanted a raise and we got one; we wanted to keep our benefits and we got them, and a lot more.”

Over the course of the three-year contract, members will receive an average of $3.35/hour in additional compensation, including wage increases, and health, pension and other benefits.

The collective bargaining agreement takes effect retroactively as of November 1, 2013. It expires on October 29, 2016, and covers 17,000 workers. The previous contract was extended twice as negotiators sought to overcome the significant challenges before them.

“This contract will enable Giant and Safeway to maintain their dominance as the number one and two retail food chains in the Washington metropolitan area, while doing right by the workers whose productivity and customer service have lifted them to the top,” Federici said. “We look forward to implementing it and helping these chains expand their market share.”