GROCERY CONTRACT BEING RATIFIED Voting follows last-minute snag, then breakthrough in negotiations

Union members at Safeway Inc. stores in the Baltimore are voted overwhelmingly today to ratify a four-year contract averting the threat of a grocery strike this weekend.

Employees of Giant Inc. stores in the area began meeting immediately afterward to consider their tentative contract agreement.


The 437-12 margin of the Safeway vote taken at Timonium Fairgrounds indicated that it is highly likely the Giant contract -- which follows the same pattern -- will be accepted.

The breakthrough in talks between the two grocery chains and the United Food and Commercial Workers union came about 2:30 a.m. The talks broke down briefly about midnight but were later resumed and the final two issues were resolved.


Workers at the two chains had been facing the possibility of a strike Sunday morning, when the contracts were due to expire.

Tom Russow, president of UFCW Local 27, said the union made "substantial" gains in pensions and health and welfare benefits -- both for current workers and retirees.

The wage settlement was more modest than the one achieved during the last Baltimore area grocery industry contract negotiations in 1989, before the recession cut deeply into industry profits.

Veteran employees will receive a 70 cents-an-hour wage increase over four years, with a pair of bonuses to sweeten the pot.

Employees hired in the last 10 years who had been on a lower salary tier, will receive an average $1.30 over the four years, bringing them up to virtual parity by the end of the contract, Mr. Russow said.

The union leader said the last two issues resolved this morning involved an extra personal day for second-tier employees and manning issues for meat cutters in stores open 24 hours.

"It's damn good for these times," Mr. Russow said.

Union members seemed to agree.


"I feel good about it," said Bryan Caudle, assistant manager of Safeway's Pratt Street store. "We saved a lot for the retirees, and the co-payments [on benefits] are way down."

Local 27 represents about 6,200 employees at Giant and 1,000 at Safeway stores in the Baltimore area, union officials say. Local 400 represents about 12,000 Giant and 6,000 Safeway workers in Washington and its suburbs.

A third regional chain, Super Fresh, also has a union contract expiring, but that pact has been extended during the Giant and Safeway talks.