Giant Workers Reach Tentative Agreement
WASHINGTON, D.C., (February 19, 2020) — Hundreds of union Safeway employees, members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 400 and 27, today rallied alongside elected officials, community leaders and other allies, telling management to negotiate a fair contract or face a strike.
At the same rally, however, Giant workers announced they had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, averting a potential work stoppage.
Four months after their current agreement expired, 25,000 Safeway and Giant workers had reached the end of their patience with draconian demands by highly profitable companies unwilling to share their prosperity with the hardworking employees who make it possible. While they were eventually able to bargain fair terms with Giant, UFCW Local 400 and 27 members have made no progress with Safeway.
“Enough is enough,” said UFCW Local President Mark P. Federici. “For Safeway to insist on freezing new workers at the minimum wage for three years, on forcing workers to pay more for their health care, and on betraying its legal obligation to ensure full pension benefits for our members is disrespectful and disgraceful.
“It adds insult to injury that Safeway is controlled by a private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, that has grabbed $350 million out of the company in so-called management fees and dividends and is now trying to make workers pay the price for its greed,” Federici charged. “None of us want to strike, but if this is the only option to gain a fair contract, we’re ready.”
“Grocery stores are the heart of our communities, not only because they provide sustenance and healthy foods, but because they’re also supposed to provide good jobs,” said UFCW Local 27 President Jason Chorpenning. “That means fair wages, affordable health care, retirement security and predictable schedules. We are not going to let Safeway take that away from you.”
Bargaining has reached a stalemate due to Safeway’s insistence on many unacceptable proposals, including:
- Freezing new workers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland at minimum wage for the next three years.
- Keeping part-timers hired after Oct. 30, 2013 at a maximum of 24 hours/week, making them ineligible for benefits.
- Top-of-scale increases that are far below other parts of the country.
- Immediate cuts to healthcare funding.
- Large increases to weekly premiums for healthcare.
- Eliminating their promise to secure pension benefits.
- Cuts to future pension benefits.
“I put in 32 years of my life with Safeway. I’ve worked all kinds of shifts; I’ve worked just about every department. I am dedicated to my customers,” said Michelle Lee, a Safeway employee who works at a store in Alexandria. “We’ve helped this company make billions and billions and billions of dollars. We’re the ones that brought customers into the store, and it’s because of us that they continue to come back.”
“I have spent years not being able to spend time with husband, not being able to spend time with my children, not being able to make baseball games, football games, basketball games,” she continued. “All of us have made sacrifices for this company.”
“We sacrificed raises to make sure our health care was fully funded,” said Safeway member Jane St. Louis. “The promise of a union job was that we won’t get rich but we will be able to provide heath care for our families. But now, Safeway wants to break that promise. They want us to pay higher weekly premiums, cut our benefits, and keep new hires from ever qualifying for health care. Their offer is insulting. A profitable company like Safeway should be enhancing benefits, not cutting them. We’re prepared to do what it takes, including going on strike, to preserve affordable, quality health care.”
“All I’ve got to say is, ‘Safeway, you’re a liar,'” said Dominica Sturge, a Safeway employee who sits on the bargaining committee. “We want a fair contract and want it now.”
A host of elected officials spoke at the rally in support of the workers. They included D.C. City Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Elissa Silverman, Prince George’s County Councilmembers Deni Tavares and Jolene Ivey, Prince George’s County States Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, and Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker, All four U.S. Senators from Maryland and Virginia, as well as Governor Ralph Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser have written letters to Safeway executives urging them to bargain a fair contract.
At the end of the rally, Federici announced that members would meet on March 5th. Giant members will vote on whether to ratify their new collective bargaining agreement, while Safeway members will vote on whether to authorize a strike.
“The countdown starts today,” he said. “The countdown for justice ends March 5th. We’re delivering thousands of customer cards that express their support for our members –10,000 working families at 116 stores. We’re going to roll up our sleeves, we’re all going to lean in, and we’re going to lean on these folks to do the right thing by the people that have been doing the right thing by them for a long time.”
Safeway workers will meet at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5 at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center to vote on the company’s proposal. If it is rejected by a majority of union members, then a second vote will be taken to authorize a strike at the company. If a two-thirds majority of members vote in favor of a strike, then the workers may walk out shortly after. A strike would affect 10,000 Safeway employees working at 116 locations in the Greater Washington-Baltimore region.
That same day, Giant workers will meet in the morning to vote on the tentative agreement from the company. If the majority vote in favor of accepting the deal, the contract will be ratified.