The president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions was arrested at a Safeway supermarket in North Baltimore yesterday during a protest arranged to demonstrate solidarity between local unions and supermarket workers in California who have been locked out or on strike since October.
Ernest R. Grecco was arrested as representatives of about 20 local unions picketed outside a Safeway store in the 4400 block of Harford Road. Grecco bought groceries in the store using pennies to pay.
The penny purchase annoyed a shopper, and police removed Grecco from the store and handcuffed him.
The Baltimore union members gathered at the supermarket to show support for about 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union who have been on strike or locked out since Oct. 11. Health care coverage is the main issue in the dispute between supermarket workers and Safeway, Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co., owner of Ralphs.
Unionized employees of Safeway also face negotiations in the region. Their contract expires at the end of next month. The United Food and Commercial Workers union did not participate in the Baltimore protest.
Unions "are claiming that we're trying to eliminate health care benefits for our employees in Southern California, and that's wrong," said Brian Downling, a spokesman for the California-based Safeway chain. "What we're trying to do in Southern California is find a way to preserve a very good health care plan for our existing workers."
Union members from the region argue that Safeway is trying to shift health care costs to its workers.
Grecco was counting pennies to purchase two heart-shaped boxes of Valentine's Day chocolates yesterday evening when a woman behind him complained.
Police officers asked Grecco to leave. When he remained in line, Grecco was escorted from the store, handcuffed, and taken to the Central Booking and Intake Center in a police van to await arraignment last night.