Workers for Giant Food and Safeway supermarkets in the Baltimore-Washington area could vote on a new labor contract as early as Wednesday.
Negotiations continued Monday between management for the two chains and union representatives for 28,000 Giant and Safeway workers in the region. An 18-month contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers expired Oct. 31 but was extended to Nov. 15.
Both chains have been negotiating with UFCW Locals 27 and 400 since early September to reach a new agreement.
"The bargaining teams are dealing with very complex issues, and Safeway is committed to attempting to address the concerns of the unions while also finding ways for the company to mitigate the cost advantage of nonunion retailers, who in recent years have entered the region and taken market share from traditional grocers like Safeway," Greg Ten Eyck, a Safeway spokesman, said Monday.
He declined to discuss specific issues being negotiated. Leaders of Locals 27 and 400 could not be reached Monday.
In a statement sent Monday, Giant said the company is encouraged by the negotiations for its 18,000 unionized employees.
"We continue to work toward a fair and reasonable contract that will ensure our associates continue to receive competitive wages and high-quality health care for themselves and their families," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said in the statement, adding that the company has focused on "the welfare of our associates and maintaining Giant's ability to remain competitive and provide consumers with the best products at the best prices. "
Grocery competition has intensified in recent years as nonunionized supermarket chains such as Harris Teeter, Wegmans and Whole Foods have entered the Baltimore area market or expanded. Meanwhile, big-box stores such as Walmart, drug chains and convenience stores are taking a bigger share of consumers' grocery dollars.
Giant workers represented by Local 400 are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning, while the local's Safeway's members will meet in the afternoon, according to an online post by the union. Offices for the local, which represents workers in Maryland's Washington suburbs, were closed Monday for Veterans Day.
"Ongoing negotiations between UFCW Local 400 and Giant and Safeway concerning your current union contract require your attendance; as we feel they may make a proposal for a new contract to be presented for your consideration and vote," an online notice to members says.
Members of the UFCW's Towson-based Local 27, which represents Baltimore-area supermarket workers, also will meet on Wednesday.
Ten Eyck said Safeway is advertising for temporary workers, which he said is standard procedure during every contract negotiation, but he would not comment on the number of temporary workers sought or hired.
"While we do not want a work stoppage, and we don't think there will be one, we must be prepared to keep our stores open in that event," he said in an email.
Ten Eyck called discussions "productive" and said the company is "hopeful that we will reach a settlement which reflects a fair and competitive new labor agreement."