As the strike against Giant Food extended through a sixth day, state mediators convinced the two sides yesterday to take a small step in hopes of resolving the impasse.
But Giant officials and Teamsters Local 639, representing 320 truck drivers, met for about two hours last night at an undisclosed location in the Washington area and made "no progress" in the first face-to-face talks since the strike began, said Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
No further talks were scheduled for the weekend, she said.
The central issue of the strike revolves around whether the company can hire wholesale distributors to haul groceries directly to stores or whether all goods must be taken from the Landover warehouse to individual stores by Giant union truck drivers.
Meanwhile, one competing supermarket appealed to nervous Giant customers by posting large notices in the windows saying it would accept Giant check cashing cards.
SuperFresh posted the notices in its stores that are closest to Giant Food stores, said regional manager Herb Whiteside, because some customers had asked if they would accept their Giant cards.
Whiteside said that his stores had seen an upswing in business, but that it was difficult to say whether it was a result of the strike. "You have to remember this is Christmas week and we have had a snowstorm scare," he said.
Ferris Baker Watts analyst Kurt Funderburg said he would expect other grocery store chains to try to grab a piece of Giant's market share during the strike.
"This is not like a brotherhood of grocery store chains," he said. "Giant is the king of the hill, and anybody who thinks they have a chance of taking advantage of the strike will."
Giant appeared unsurprised at the actions of SuperFresh. "This is a very competitive industry, and we would probably do the same thing," said spokesperson Barry Scher. "But we are advertising to our customers that our stores are open and stocked."
In fact, Giant acknowledged there were shortages at some of its supermarkets but only of Giant brand dairy products and baked goods. At the Giant in the Rotunda in North Baltimore, the shelf for Giant brand whole milk was empty. But other brands of whole milk were available.
The company said it had expected to run out of some of its own products because it has closed down its bakery and dairy production in Landover as a result of the drivers' strike.
However, the stores have been kept supplied by wholesale distributors, including Richfood, which trucks in different name brands. In anticipation of the strike, the company overstocked many stores last week.
About 2,100 dairy, bakery and warehouse workers laid off by Giant Tuesday are waiting to hear if the state will give them unemployment benefits.
Pub Date: 12/21/96