Food work­ers union fight­ing to preserve Gi­ant Stores

The Enquire-Gazette - - News - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

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 go­ing 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.

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