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Giant's hiring of minorities is praised Black leaders note advances


Giant Food Inc. and a coalition of black community leaders announced today that the Landover-based supermarket chain has made major advances in involving minorities in its operation.

In a news conference at Emmanuel Christian Community Church in West Baltimore, Giant officials and coalition leaders outlined how the progress has been achieved since 1987, when the two groups first agreed to jointly create a greater minority presence in the company.

They cited the appointment of retired Army Gen. Roscoe Robinson of Falls Church, Va., as the first black member of Giant's board of directors; the development of minority management candidates from within the company; contracts with minority suppliers of products and services; the establishment of an internship program in which students from the pharmacy school of Washington's Howard University gain experience working at Giant pharmacies; and efforts to recruit minority students from local high schools and colleges for jobs with the chain.

"The bottom line is that Giant has been absolutely tremendous" in improving its record of minority involvement, George Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said before the announcement.

The news conference followed a semi-annual meeting at which coalition and Giant officials discussed the progress of minority programs.

Buntin; the Rev. Sidney Daniels, pastor of Emmanuel Christian and the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; and the Rev. Henry Silva, pastor of Centennial United Methodist Church in East Baltimore and an official with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were among coalition leaders at the conference.

Giant officials on hand included Henry Hailstock, director of the chain's recently created department of minority affairs, and company lawyer David Rutstein.

Henry Mitchum of the U.S. Justice Department also attended. He served as mediator of Giant-coalition negotiations that began in 1987.

At that time, the chain had been sued by Jeanette Towns of Baltimore, who was fired from her job at a Giant store for what she said were racial reasons. Towns lost her suit in 1989, though it focused attention on the chain's bad minority record.

Critics said the chain -- with 153 stores in Maryland, Virginia and Washington -- had few minority employees, particularly in management, and a weak inner-city presence in Baltimore and Washington.

The NAACP, the SCLC and the alliance moved to pressure Giant into improving its minority record.

"It was not easy," Buntin recalled of those initial meetings three years ago. "It took a lot of negotiating, and some picketing, some yelling, some screaming. But once the three organizations and the Giant representatives got to know each other, we began to talk about change at Giant in earnest."

Buntin said the two sides agreed not to publicly divulge numbers and percentages of black employees at the chain, which has about 27,000 workers. However, he added, the coalition leaders are "ecstatic about the numbers" and about Giant's "excellent job of meeting all our goals."

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