BALTIMORE -- United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 27 here said it has staged rallies at three Giant Food locations in the past two weeks to protest the potential divestiture of stores when Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold completes its purchase of the chain.
The union's rallies sparked a letter to the Federal Trade Commission from Maryland's two U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, asking the FTC to ensure that any divestitures that may be required do not leave the area with less competition and fewer union contracts.
Ahold's acquisition of Giant Food is under FTC review.
Anita Riley, secretary-treasurer for the 27,000-member UFCW local, said the union is concerned that Ahold "is using the FTC review process to justify the sale of a number of Giant stores, while keeping open Martin's stores in the same neighborhoods."
Stores operated by Landover, Md.-based Giant Food are unionized, while stores operated by Martin's, a five-store division of Ahold-owned Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., are non-union, Riley said.
Ernie Smith, chief financial officer for Ahold USA, Atlanta, told SN the company is still in the midst of discussions with the FTC "regarding areas of potential conflict, but we don't expect any loss of competition in those areas because we will sell the stores we close to another supermarket operator."
He said only a handful of locations have potential conflicts -- "maybe five to 10 stores, but we are still far from finalizing that list, though we've made some progress."
Regarding allegations that Ahold would opt to close unionized stores rather than non-union locations, Smith said, "What we look at is store positioning within each marketplace as well as the economics. Whether or not a store is unionized does not matter."
An FTC official declined comment on the timing of the review but said what the commission looks for in the review process "is the effect on competition of a merger in a given area and whether there will be an increase in prices or reduction in quality.
"Our purpose is to keep stores open, and we try to make sure that, if there is a divestiture, the stores go to a qualified buyer."
Riley said the union does not want to see any stores closed "because we want to preserve everyone's job. We would prefer that stores be sold to others, not closed, to preserve union jobs."
She said Local 27 has "a strong contract with Giant, and Giant has promised our members job security, decent wages and benefits."