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Gansler joins picket line at Bowie Safeway over possible loss of worker health coverage

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) joined union workers picketing outside a Safeway grocery store in Bowie on Tuesday in an attempt to draw attention to a potential loss of health-care benefits.

“We want the workers to make sure they know we’re behind them,” Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor next year, told reporters as he appeared with his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s) and several campaign volunteers, who brought coffee to those on the picket line and helped collect petition cards.

According to United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, which represents the grocery workers, a stalemate has emerged in contract negotiations due to Safeway’s stance on health care.

The grocery giant has proposed to reduce insurance costs by dropping part-time employees and retirees from the company’s existing health plan rather than offer them a plan that complies with the new federal health care law, the union said.

“The public should know when companies are taking the Affordable Care Act ... and flipping in on its head,” Gansler said. “The whole idea of the Affordable Care Act is to help people get health care.”

Gregory A. Ten Eyck, director of public affairs and government relations for Safeway’s Eastern Division, said the company does not comment on current labor negotiations and declined to address Gansler’s presence at the Bowie store.

“The bargaining teams are dealing with very complex issues, and Safeway is committed to attempting to address the concerns of the unions while also finding ways for the company to mitigate the cost advantage of non-union retailers, who in recent years have entered the region and taken market share from traditional grocers like Safeway,” Ten Eyck said.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act has become an issue in the 2014 governor’s race, with both Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) questioning the other’s work to make it a success.

Gansler and Brown also face Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) in next June’s primary.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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