After extending their labor agreements for nearly four months with Giant Food and Safeway, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 (Baltimore, Eastern Shore and Delaware) and Local 400 (Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland suburbs) have tentatively agreed to a new contract with Giant, the unit of Ahold Delhaize USA based in Landover, MD which operates about 155 stores in the region.

However, unable to reach satisfactory progress levels in their view, both Locals announced they will seek a strike authorization vote from the approximately 11,000 clerks and meatcutters who work at Safeway’s Eastern division’s approximately 110 stores.

Both votes will be held on March 5 at the Gaylord Hotel (Local 400) in Oxon Hill, MD and at Pimlico Race Course (Local 27) in Baltimore.

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The decision to vote on both a proposed new Giant pact and to take a strike vote against Safeway was made at a press conference and rally held on February 19 at Safeway’s store on 4th St. SW in Washington, DC.

UFCW officials are recommending ratification of Giant’s proposed offer and rejection of Safeway’s offer along with a strike authorization caveat if Safeway’s offer is not improved. Of course, Safeway could improve its offer in the next two weeks which could potentially negate a strike authorization vote.

Giant and Safeway (ranked first and second respectively in market share in the Baltimore-Washington market) have been negotiating separately with the two unions since its most recent contracts expired on October 26.

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After bargaining new contracts collectively for nearly 40 years, both chains elected to negotiate separately during its 2016 bargaining which resulted in new three-year pacts with both retailers. That individualized negotiations process continued with these contracts.

A critical issue from the outset has been how to develop a collective agreement about how to reduce the $1.1 billion underfunding of their joint multi-employer (FELRA) pension plan. Giant has given written assurances that its approximately 15,000 store level associates will have their FELRA plan benefits protected during the next three years. At presstime, Safeway has made no such written promise.

Some predict that the FELRA plan could become insolvent as soon as next year.