*Giant Foods workers vote not to strike*

By Deborah Gates Staff Writer

SALISBURY -- There will be no strike for Giant Foods employees who returned to work Tuesday at the South Salisbury Boulevard supermarket, the majority of them favoring a labor contract that won overwhelming approval by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

"It was worth the wait," said Bryan Littleton, a worker at the Salisbury supermarket where most employees are members of the UFCW Local 27.

Union workers approved a new four-year contract with Giant, owned by Royal Ahold NV and Safeway Inc., that includes a $1.50 wage increase during the length of the contract, an increase in starting rates for new hires, an increase in employer contributions to pension funds, advanced scheduling notices and no reduction in health care coverage.

"I'm happy," said Giant worker Linda Blaher outside the store Tuesday.

Union members representing about 26,000 employees at Giant or Safeway stores in Northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland voted on a contract that replaced a covenant that expired at midnight Saturday.

The Salisbury store closed between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, allowing workers time to travel to an American Legion post in Cambridge, where they joined Giant and Safeway workers in Easton to vote on a tentative agreement reached during the weekend between representatives of the UFCW and the supermarkets.

According to workers, all but 15 union members at the Salisbury store voted to support terms of the contract that Harry Burton, lead negotiator for the supermarkets, said would for the first time require new hires to contribute $5 a week toward their health insurance premium.

"We adopted cost-cutting approaches by agreement with the union in the health benefits area; newly hired people will pay a modest premium. Previously, most did not pay for health benefits."

Littleton has worked two years at the Salisbury Giant and said he would not have to pay the insurance premium.

"It was worth the wait; nothing comes out of my check," he said, referencing contract negotiations that had been under way since February. "I heard they were gonna cut that out, but then I heard 100 different things."

Burton said the contract also increases the annual employee out-of-pocket contribution for health care, from $200 to $300.

Blaher, a Giant employee of eight years, doesn't mind the additional $100.

"I thought we'd be striking," she said.

# The Associated Press contributed to this report

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