Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 stood outside the Belle View Safeway on Tuesday afternoon asking customers for support as workers from 127 Giant and Safeway stores negotiate their next four-year contract.
A handful of UFCW-sponsored employees standing outside asked Safeway patrons to fill out support cards and shared the Occupy Safeway & Giant website. Their current contract is set to expire on March 31.
"These two weeks are critical, and we're asking them for their support," current Giant employee Chris Bell said.
Bell worked at the Beacon Hill Giant after he returned from the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 24. He continues to work for Giant as a receiving manager now in Stafford, Va.
Bell said he and his colleagues were offended to witness the recruiting of temporary employees next to the Safeway store.
"They're not only just hiring replacement workers, but they're hiring at $12 an hour," Bell said. "The average employee starts off at Safeway at $7.60 an hour, and it takes a significant amount of time to reach $12 an hour."
The figures are correct, according to Safeway spokesperson Greg Ten Eyck, but the UFCW's argument overlooks job security and benefits.
"The benefits our union store employees receive are substantial," Ten Eyck said. "The $7.60 per hour is an entry-level starting wage rate."
Details of the ongoing negotiations have not been made public, and Ten Eyck declined to discuss specifics on the negotiations.
"From what I understand, they're trying to take away over 30 concessions," Bell said.
Support among the Belle View community has been very positive, Bell said.
"The costumer support at Safeway and Giant has been phenomenal," Bell said. "They have honestly warmed my heart today. I'm going home feeling loved as a grocery store worker."
Residents told picketers Tuesday that they know their local Belle View employees, according to Bell.
"They know their names. They know their stories. They know their families," he said. "They don't know the CEOs. They know nothing about them. But they do know how much they make."