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The 350 Washington, DC-area stores owned and operated by Safeway and Ahold's Giant Food will be closed tomorrow between 7 am and 3 pm, which will allow unionized employees gather at the DC Armory to vote on a proposed labor contract.

The two chains are jointly negotiating a four-year contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers representing 18,000 Washington area workers. The contract expires at midnight Tuesday. The two chains control a combined 48 percent of the region's grocery market.

Local analysts call the vote too close to call. If they reject the "final offer" from the two chains, they also could vote to strike. Safeway already has hired 1,700 temporary workers and Giant has hired 1,500 - and both continue to advertise for more.

The two chains are looking to cut labor costs, especially benefits, which is a play that the union is diametrically opposed to. One open question is whether the chains are looking to cut pay scales for new employees.

Safeway, along with Kroger and Albertsons, recently endured a four-month strike in Southern California over the same sorts of issues. In the end, a two-tier pay scale was agreed to by the two sides.
KC's View:
Eight hours is a lot less damaging than four months. We just hope that the two chains and the union have been negotiating in good faith and trying to make real headway for long-term competitiveness for both sides…as opposed to re-fighting old battles.