Giant Union Workers Say They’ve Been Given Notice of Plant Shutdown

… Company that runs the plant said that is not true …

By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

2:50 PM EDT, March 16, 2011

Union leaders representing hundreds of workers at a Giant Food distribution center in Jessup said the operator has given them verbal notice that part of the facility would be shut down, resulting in hundreds of job losses.

The company that runs the dry goods distribution facility denies giving workers official notice of impending layoffs but declined to answer questions about shuttering the dry goods distribution facility.

Giant, the region’s largest grocer, announced last year it would outsource the dry goods business at the facility to New Hampshire-based C&S Wholesale Grocers. The union contracts were to remain in place under the new operators, which will officially take over March 20, until the contracts for the plant’s three unions are set to expire May 14.

Union leaders and C&S executives have been in intense negotiations to adopt a new agreement for workers at the dry goods business. C&S would have to give the union 60 days — in the form of what is called a WARN notice required by federal labor laws — if it planned to lay off workers.

State officials, who also require notice of layoffs, said Wednesday they had not received a written WARN notice from C&S.

Union leaders with Local 730, which represents 430 dry good workers, said they were given such a notice verbally Tuesday, but C&S spokesman Bryan T. Granger said they only discussed the possibility of layoffs. He declined to answer questions about the existence of plans to shut down all or part of the warehouse, citing the ongoing union talks. In the past, the company said such talk was speculative.

“We respect the bargaining process and will continue conversations with the local” union representatives, he said in an e-mail.

Granger also said that when C&S takes over it would be looking to “secure significant cost savings.” Granger said C&S met with Local 730 on March 10 and March 15 and more sessions are anticipated before the contract expires.

“Stores are looking for ways to get products to the shelves in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Granger said in a statement. “There have been great advances in automation and technology in grocery distribution which could save at least $26 million per year.”

The Jessup facility employees about 430 people in dry goods and 380 in produce as well as other workers, including 200 truck drivers, according to union officials.

Union leaders worry if the dry goods operations were to shut down it could impact other departments at the plant, including produce and recycling. Giant still runs those departments and is in separate negotiations with the two unions that represent those groups.

“Giant brought in C&S to do their dirty work and get rid of workers,” said Ritchie Brooks, president of Local 730.

Union leaders say Giant is trying to pressure workers to agree to concessions this month and has warned them that it will turn over the produce side of the business to C&S if they do not. Union officials said Giant has told them it could save $29 million by outsourcing.

Giant spokesman Brian Beatty said in an e-mail earlier this month that the company is prepared to offer the three unions at the plant a fair contract proposal but did not rule out outsourcing.

“Giant is exploring all of its options regarding the fresh warehouse and transportation businesses,” Beatty said. “Giant continuously looks at all aspects of the business to determine how to best provide maximum value to our customers.”

Union officials said C&S has a pattern of laying off workers. The company laid off 1,100 workers at a subsidiary in New Jersey earlier this month when it shut down six food distribution centers.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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