Left to right, Olivia Barba and Delegate Edith Patterson.

La Plata, MD  – A blend of employees and customers attended a meeting Tuesday, April 19 organized by union officials representing workers of a local Giant Food store which is up for sale. The sale of the La Plata Giant was announced last month after the grocery retailer’s parent company, Ahold, announced shareholder approval of a merger with Delhaize, the company that owns Food Lion. Both companies are based in Europe.

Store employees are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400.  Mike Wilson, the local’s campaign worker, told the group of 40 people gathered at Holiday Inn Express La Plata that the union’s goal is to keep the La Plata store open, preferably with no sale occurring. Should the store be sold the union will push for the new owner to honor the employees’ collective bargaining agreement.

Store employees recalled being summoned last month to a staff meeting where they were informed the store was for sale. One rumor circulating was that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the regulatory agency that must approve the merger for U.S. operations, was ordering the merging corporations to sell a number of stores.

Wilson stated the FTC “has not ordered these companies to sell these stores.”
When the pending merger was announced last summer, experts revealed that a uniting of Ahold and Delhaize would create one of the United States’ biggest supermarket chains, with a market value of $29 billion. While the companies are based in Europe—The Netherlands and Belgium—60 percent of the grocery behemoths’ sales are in the U.S.

The La Plata Giant is one of eight stores in Maryland and Virginia that have been targeted for sale. The local’s strategy has been to alert the stores’ employees and customers about the situation through a series of meetings and a petition. Save My Store organizers are planning a rally for May 11 at Giant Food headquarters in Landover. The organizers will present the petition to company officials at that time.
Wilson said the group has been seeking support from local elected officials. One official, Delegate Edith J. Patterson [D – District 28], attended the April 19 meeting.

“You are more than workers, you are family,” said Patterson, who showed the meeting-goers her Giant Bonus Card. Regarding the May 11 rally in Landover, Patterson pledged “I will be with you.”

One store employee stated that she has heard several customers say “I’ve heard you are closing.”

“What I would tell your customers is ‘we are trying to keep this store open,’ ” said Wilson.

“It’s a beautiful store,” said another employee. “I don’t know–why us?”

Wilson said the union has not been able to get much in the way of information from corporate officials, stating the officials he has spoken with want UFCW to sign a non-disclosure agreement first.

“Ahold USA, Inc., parent company of Giant of Maryland, continues to work toward the successful completion of the proposed merger between Ahold and the Delhaize Group,” Ahold USA spokesman Chris Brand stated on behalf of the company. “The merger is currently under review by the Federal Trade Commission and remains on track for completion in mid-2016. It’s too early to speculate on the outcome of the FTC review process. We do not anticipate any store closures as part of the FTC merger approval process.”

Additionally, Brand told The BayNet that the FTC is reviewing the proposed merger and “looking at it from a competitive standpoint,” so as to assure the marriage of Giant and Food Lion doesn’t dominate a market. Currently, the FTC is examining the merger to assure any “overlap” that could potentially result in “dominance” is avoided.

Brand also stated that “any store that may be sold must be sold to another [store] and remain open.” He said he could not comment on whether the new store owners would be compelled to honor an existing collective bargaining agreement.

While the meeting didn’t do much to allay fears, the store employees did receive some welcome support from the community. Olivia Barba, a second-grader at Dr. James Craik Elementary School, read a letter of praise from one of her classmates.

Other students in second-grade teacher Chelsea Beck’s class are planning to write letters of support for keeping La Plata Giant open.

For more information about Save My Store, visit http://www.savemystore.org/

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com