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Maryland Safeway workers prepare for possible strike vote

About 10,000 workers at Safeway stores in Maryland and the region are preparing for a possible strike, union leaders said Tuesday.

The United Food and Commercial Workers recommended on Feb. 19 that workers reject a company offer for a new contract that would cover 116 Safeway stores and fuel centers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. The UFCW set Thursday as a date for a possible strike vote.

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At the same time, the UFCW had reached a tentative contract with Giant in the region.

Members of the union’s Local 400 and Local 27 have continued negotiating with Safeway over the past two weeks over wages, health care and retirement benefits.

The two sides met Monday.

“We made no progress, and we are no closer to a tentative agreement,” the union said in an update Tuesday. “There continue to be a number of outstanding issues to resolve.”

Workers say the grocer refuses to fully fund pensions.

The company said it is being asked to fully support approximately 50,000 retirees and employees who draw or plan to draw their benefits from the pension fund if the fund becomes insolvent. Safeway said it has proposed covering the portion of pension benefits that would not be guaranteed by the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. if the plan goes insolvent.

“However, amazingly, the unions claim that Safeway should guarantee benefits provided by the PBGC if the PBGC goes insolvent,” Safeway said in a statement. “We know that we are living up to our pension obligations. The Unions want our hard-working team to go on strike over their belief that we should guarantee benefits provided by the PBGC should this government agency go insolvent.”

The company has said stores would continue operating in the event of a strike.

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“We’ve made clear to our employees that Safeway has proposed the same economic package that the Unions agreed to with Giant," said Beth Goldberg, a spokeswoman for Safeway’s Eastern Division. “We continue to remain at the bargaining table to reach an agreement that rewards our employees.”

Local 27 represents more than 2,680 workers at 31 locations, while Local 400 represents more than 6,650 employees at 85 locations.

Negotiations continued Tuesday. The union said workers plan to continue talks “until we reach a fair deal,” but otherwise will take a strike vote Thursday.

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