Food workers union fighting to preserve Giant Stores
Ahold, the corporation that owns Giant Foods, has been in discussion with Delhaize, a European based corporation that owns Food Lion, over the last year on creating a merger between the two companies.
In Europe, to avoid an over saturation of the market, according to local union representative Mike Wilson, Delhaize is being forced to sell some of its stores. In America, Ahold could face the same competition issue and could potentially be asked by the Federal Trade Commission to sell some of its stores.
To meet company antitrust standards, Wilson said, shareholders have marked eight stores across in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Two of the eight stores are in La Plata and Accokeek.
Wilson said in order to keep the stores from being sold and prevent any job loss for employees, the employees have to collectively use their voices to “show they care” about their individual stores.
“We’re saying they’re go- ing to fight to keep their benefits, we’re going to fight to keep our stores open,” Wilson said. “What this is really about is these two mega-corporations that want to make a bigger mega-corporation.”
The FTC has not made a public recommendation to sell the stores as of yet, Wilson said. Even if they did, he said, the corporation could sell Food Lion stores that are not union represented or could just not sell stores at all.
“This is something they decided to do,” Wilson said. “The only people who know what they’ve decided to do is those people at Ahold.”
Wilson said the company could choose to move people to other stores in different locations based on their seniority, but there is no guarantee that will happen. As a result of their collective bargaining agreement, workers do have transfer rights. However, he said, that may not be something they have to worry about if they do not have to sell the store at all.
On May 11, Wilson said, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is going to protest in front of Giant Corporation’s offices in Landover. Anybody who purchases the stores is going to see, he said, they will “have a problem” with passionate employees who care about their jobs.
Karen Sayer, a worker at the Giant store in Accokeek, said if the employees and union get out of this situation “unscathed,” they need provisions in their next collective bargaining agreement, set to expire in October, that this situation does not happen again.
“Say we show up to work tomorrow and they announce the store has been sold? Where do we go from there?” Sayer said. “Does that mean that me and all the other people get the option to transfer? That’s the language that we’re looking for.”
Sayer said, at the end of the day, she would “like to stay” with Giant into the future. But if they are unable to save the store, she wants to know what her options are and how she can save her job.
“That’s all of our issues here,” Sayer said.
Yolanda Anwar, a regional service director for UFCW, said employee seniority would transfer with them wherever they go should they transfer.
“The language is strong enough to carry us through this. But there could be different scenarios that happen and take place. And we’ll deal with it when we’re faced with it,” Anwar said. “But you have your seniority. The contract covers it.”
Prince George’s County Councilman Mel Franklin (D) said he and other county council members will do everything they can to fight with the workers to help them keep their jobs. He said he is concerned about the issue and he does not want to see “any changes at all.”
Franklin, who used to work for the Federal Trade Commission, said the people in these situations who matter the most is the FTC. They decide which stores should be sold and what rules to sell them under.
“They’re bureaucrats. They want to preserve competition. So what they’ll say is, ‘How do we preserve that competition with this merger?’ So they have to make them sell stores where there are direct competition,” Franklin said.
The challenge is going to be getting to the Trade Commission, Franklin said. If they are going to sell the store, he said, it needs to be to another union company with wage and benefits protection to keep it competitive for workers and “not just on the end for prices.”
It is hard to get the FTC to acknowledge messages for workers, Franklin said, and doing it will take something “different.”
“We have to get organized, get to the FTC and weigh in with them so they know our concerns,” Franklin said. “At the end of the day, we need to win. And the only way we win is to get to the right decision makers with our message.”
Tim van der Zanden, a spokesman for Ahold, said the company cannot provide any information on the FTC’s process and how they make their recommendations to the company.
There are multiple milestones, Zanden said, needed to close the deal on the merger between the two companies.
“Among them are shareholder approval of both companies, approval from competition authorities in Europe and Belgium and indeed approval in the U.S.,” Zanden said. The only thing left, he said, is approval from the FTC.
The merger is on track to close by mid-2016, Zanden said, which is the original pace Ahold and Delhaize set for themselves when they announced the merger in June of 2015.