Giant union workers say they've been given notice of plant shutdown

Union leaders representing hundreds of workers at a Giant Food distribution center in Jessup said the operator has given them oral notice that part of the facility would be shut down, resulting in hundreds of job losses.

The company that runs the dry goods distribution facility denies giving workers official notice of impending layoffs but declined to answer questions about shuttering the dry goods distribution facility.

Giant, the region's largest grocer, announced last year that it would outsource the dry goods business at the facility to New Hampshire-based C&S Wholesale Grocers. The contracts for the plant's three unions were to remain in place under the new operator, which will officially take over March 20, until they expire on May 14.

Union leaders and C&S executives have been in intense negotiations to adopt a new agreement for workers at the dry goods business. C&S would have to give the union 60 days — in the form of what is called a WARN notice required by federal labor law — if it planned to lay off workers.

State officials, who also require notice of layoffs, said Wednesday they had not received a written WARN notice from C&S.

Union leaders with Teamsters Local 730, which represents 430 dry goods workers, said they were given such a notice orally on Tuesday, but C&S spokesman Bryan T. Granger said Tuesday evening that the company discussed only the possibility of layoffs. He declined to answer questions about the existence of plans to shut down all or part of the warehouse, citing the union talks. In the past, the company said such talk was speculative.

"We respect the bargaining process and will continue conversations with the local" union representatives, Granger said in an e-mail.

Granger also said that when C&S takes over it would be looking to "secure significant cost savings." He said that C&S met with Local 730 on March 10 and 15 and that more sessions are anticipated before the contract expires.

"Stores are looking for ways to get products to the shelves in the most efficient and effective manner possible," Granger said in a statement. "There have been great advances in automation and technology in grocery distribution which could save at least $26 million per year."

The Jessup facility employs about 430 people in dry goods and 380 in produce, as well as other workers, including 200 truck drivers, according to union officials.

Union leaders worry that a shutdown of the dry goods operations could affect other departments at the plant, including produce, transportation and recycling. Giant still runs those departments and is negotiating separately with the unions that represent those workers.

"Giant brought in C&S to do their dirty work and get rid of workers," said Ritchie Brooks, president of Local 730, which represents dry goods and produce workers.

Union leaders say Giant is trying to pressure workers to agree to concessions this month and has warned them that it would turn over the produce side of the business to C&S if they do not. Union officials said Giant has told them it could save $29 million by outsourcing the work.

Giant spokesman Brian Beatty said in an e-mail earlier this month that the company was prepared to offer the three unions at the plant a fair contract proposal, but he did not rule out outsourcing.

"Giant is exploring all of its options regarding the fresh warehouse and transportation businesses," Beatty said. "Giant continuously looks at all aspects of the business to determine how to best provide maximum value to our customers."

Union officials said C&S has a pattern of laying off workers. The company dismissed 1,100 employees at a subsidiary in New Jersey earlier this month when it shut down six food distribution centers.