The firm operating two Safeway distribution centers in Prince George's County said Wednesday it will move operations to Pennsylvania and Cecil County, leading to cuts at the plant that could affect about 700 full- and part-time employees.
Collington Services, a division of New Hampshire-based C&S Wholesale Grocers, expects to start layoffs in December, cutting 191 jobs from distribution centers in Upper Marlboro and Landover, according to a notice filed with the state Wednesday.
The wholesaler employed nearly 900 people in Prince George's County last year, according to state figures. More than 700 employees at the plants are unionized, Collington Services said.
"This is a very difficult situation," Mark Pitts, director of warehouse operations, said in a statement. "We intend to work closely with the unions that represent our employees and with our nonunion associates in order to ensure that everyone can participate in a transition plan that is fair and equitable."
Ritchie Brooks, president of Teamsters Local 730, which represents about 400 workers at the plant, said the union learned of the layoffs in a meeting yesterday, when C&S said it was moving operations to Pennsylvania and North East by March, he said.
Union officials had expected to start renegotiating their contract, which is due to expire in May, he said. Now it is fighting with C&S over clauses in its current contract, which Brooks said provide job guarantees.
"It was, I don't want to say 'devastating,' but it was a total shock," said Larry Hudson, a 53-year-old Clinton resident and sanitation engineer who has worked for Safeway or C&S for 29 years. He said the decision imperils his pension.
"I kind of figured we would at least get another contract out of this company and right here, before the major holidays, they come in with this," he said. "The consumers need to know if that's a place they need to shop for their groceries."
C&S, which had operated the facilities since 2000, said it will continue to service Safeway from Pennsylvania and Cecil County.
Safeway officials did not respond to requests for comment. The company owns the Upper Marlboro facility, a $91 million complex that opened in 1998, after Safeway won about $2 million in economic development incentives, as well as labor concessions from unions.
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Safeway was acquired this year by a company controlled by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, which merged Safeway with the Albertsons grocery chain and is now seeking to take the combined business public. In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Albertsons says it is consolidating distribution centers as part of the merger.
C&S is one of the largest wholesale grocery supply companies in the United States, working with firms such as Target and Ahold NV, the Dutch grocer with brands such as Giant and Stop & Shop.
C&S laid off about 250 people from a Giant Food distribution center in Jessup in 2012 and moved operations to a more technologically advanced facility, two years after taking over Giant's dry-goods operation.
It operates two other distribution centers in Maryland with more than 360 employees.
State and county economic development officials did not respond to requests for comment.