Negotiators for the Safeway supermarket chain and their striking Teamsters Union truck drivers agreed yesterday to resume contract talks this morning amid indications that other unionized workers would honor the truckers' picket line if the dispute is not settled quickly.
The two sides, which broke off negotiations at 2 a.m. Sunday, are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. with Charles Scott of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in hopes of ending the 3-day-old strike by 260 truck drivers, garage personnel and truck loaders who work out of Safeway's main food distribution center in Landover.
"We're ready to go back to the table," said Phillip Feaster, president of Teamsters Local 639.
Feaster also suggested that the union might be willing to compromise on one of the key disputes in the strike, the question of whether drivers should be allowed to continue to unload their trucks when they arrive at stores or whether Safeway should win the right to have the work done at its convenience by other lower-paid workers, as is done at Giant Food stores.
"We have not closed the door" to Safeway's demand, Feaster said, but added that in return the union wants "some job security for the 60 to 80 people who would lose jobs if we gave up the right to unload the trucks."
Safeway spokesman Larry Johnson said the company would "like to see the strike resolved, but we don't have any reason to believe that there's any change" that will lead to a prompt settlement.
Johnson said "everything is fairly normal" at the 151 stores from southern Pennsylvania to Fredericksburg, Va., in Local 639's jurisdiction. The truckers continued to deliver perishables yesterday under a provision of their expired contract that requires them to do so for 72 hours after they start picketing, until 1:15 p.m. tomorrow.
The Safeway spokesman said if the strike is not settled by then, 20 Safeway managers and new drivers hired by the company would start making deliveries.
"I don't think there's any danger of shortages at all," Johnson said.
Feaster said that five other unions at Safeway have pledged to honor Local 639's picket line, starting either when the truckers totally stop work tomorrow or 72 hours after their notification to Safeway that they intend to honor the strike.
Safeway said the warehouse workers union had informed the food chain that it intends to honor the truckers' picket line. Two other unions, representing bakery workers and operating engineers, said they also would stop work in support of the Teamsters.
Aside from the truck unloading issue, Safeway and the Teamsters local are at odds over whether Local 639's members should continue to make deliveries to a year-old store in Fredericksburg or whether it should be serviced by lower-paid drivers working out of the food chain's distribution center in Richmond, as Safeway wants.
Safeway offered the truckers a $1.70-an-hour pay increase that would boost the truckers' salary from $14 to $15.70 an hour over three years. That was the same wage increase that Giant's truckers accepted on Sunday, but Safeway's Local 639 members rejected it unanimously because of the company's demand for the changed work rules.