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Giant, Safeway workers to picket outside new Giant Food in Washington

Giant Food and Safeway workers, who are negotiating with management over a labor contract that expires Dec. 20, plan to picket Thursday outside a new Giant store in northwest Washington.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, one of two UFCW locals representing 28,000 Giant and Safeway workers in the Baltimore-Washington area, organized the "informational picket" planned for the grand opening of Giant at 8th and O streets N.W. Local 400 voted last week to authorize union leadership to call a strike against the supermarket chains if the sides fail to reach an agreement before the contract expires.

Health care and implications from federal health reform remain the big issues on the table, the union said. In contract talks across the country, "companies have tried to eliminate health care for part-time workers, retirees and spouses," Local 400 said in a statement.

"We are refusing to go backward," said Vivian Siguion, a Safeway worker on the bargaining committee for the union. "We've worked this hard to earn the benefits we have, and for the companies to propose to eliminate them feels like a slap in the face to the 29 years I've put in to this company."

Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said Wednesday the parties are continuing "intensive negotiations." The company is aiming for an agreement that offers competitive wages and benefits but reflects "our market realities," he said in an email.

Grocery competition has intensified in recent years as non unionized supermarket chains such as Harris Teeter, Wegmans and Whole Foods have entered the Baltimore market or expanded. Meanwhile, big-box stores such as Walmart, drug chains and convenience stores are taking a bigger share of consumers' grocery dollars.

Throughout negotiations, workers have distributed leaflets at stores, joined in flash mobs and gathered pledges from thousands of shoppers. The Thursday picketing is planned for 5:30 p.m. at the Washington Giant.

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