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THE SUPERMARKET STRIKE

Grocers Say Goods Still Moving

Teamsters' support of pickets backs up warehouses. But shoppers are little affected for now.

November 26, 2003|James F. Peltz and Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writers

The Teamsters' support for striking grocery clerks created a delivery-truck bottleneck at warehouses in Southern California on Tuesday, but supermarket chains said they continued to ship goods to stores without major interruption.

The Teamsters' action also didn't appear to have an immediate effect on shoppers buying groceries for Thanksgiving, though supplies varied from store to store.

The three supermarket companies -- Safeway Inc., which owns Vons and Pavilions, Kroger Co., parent of Ralphs, and Albertsons Inc. -- said they had stocked their stores in advance of Thanksgiving and before the Teamsters on Monday ordered its drivers and workers at company warehouses not to cross picket lines there.

But union members said the noose would tighten.

"This will make things worse," said Tony Perez, a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

About 70,000 UFCW members have been idle since Oct. 11, when union members struck Vons and Pavilions. Ralphs and Albertsons locked out their union workers the next day.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Monday ordered its 8,000 drivers and workers at 10 warehouses in Southern and Central California to honor the picket lines the UFCW has set up at the warehouses. There are pickets at Ralphs' warehouses, though the UFCW has removed its pickets from Ralphs stores to focus pressure on Safeway and Albertsons.

The strike and lockout, the region's first in 25 years, are prompting all three chains to take the unusual step of closing their stores Thanksgiving Day. "We made a business decision to close," Ralphs spokesman Terry O'Neil said. "By noon, the stores are pretty dead anyway."

At Vons' distribution center in El Monte on Tuesday morning, Teamsters drivers pulled their rigs to the edge of the plant and then hopped out as about three dozen UFCW pickets marched outside the gate.

At times, several Vons tractor-trailers were parked in a line, waiting for Vons' managers or temporary workers to drive them in. As they did, they were loudly jeered by the UFCW pickets, who yelled obscenities and shook their fists and signs.

An occasional truck, presumably loaded with fresh merchandise, pulled out of the center to another boisterous protest from the pickets. Two El Monte police officers stood watch nearby.

The number of trucks leaving the warehouse quickly fell from its level of earlier this week, said Stan Liedle, a member of Teamsters Local 630 who normally works inside the Vons center, loading trucks with groceries.

"There's very little going out," Liedle said as he stood outside the center, watching the traffic come and go.

Not so, said Vons spokeswoman Sandra Calderon.

"It's had little effect on our deliveries," she said. Vons expected to send out about 100 fully loaded trucks Tuesday to all its distribution points, about the same as last week before the Teamsters' action, Calderon said.

"We are in very, very good shape at this point," she said. "We've not had a problem getting temporary drivers and replacement workers for inside the warehouses."

At a Vons east of downtown Los Angeles, shoppers searched in vain for frozen turkeys, while supplies of cereals, breads and dairy products appeared thin.

But there were plenty of turkeys, dairy products and packaged meats at a Pavilions in Arcadia.

And at a Ralphs in Pasadena, shopper Alesia Allen said the Teamsters' action hadn't affected her. "I found everything I needed," she said.

Albertsons spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld said trucks delivered goods out of all three of Albertson's regional warehouses Tuesday, but she declined to say what share of normal traffic that represented.

"We're continuing to meet the needs of our stores," Levenfeld said. "Our holiday merchandising was done -- we're just replenishing supplies at this point."

Investors discounted the Teamsters' action. Stocks of all three chains advanced Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange, with Safeway rising 27 cents to $20.80 a share, Kroger gaining 25 cents to $18.90, and Albertsons rising 37 cents to $21.22.

--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

On February 12, 2004 the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which had stated repeatedly that 70,000 workers were involved in the supermarket labor dispute in Central and Southern California, said that the number of people on strike or locked out was actually 59,000. A union spokeswoman, Barbara Maynard, said that 70,000 UFCW members were, in fact, covered by the labor contract with supermarkets that expired last year. But 11,000 of them worked for Stater Bros. Holdings Inc., Arden Group Inc.'s Gelson's and other regional grocery companies and were still on the job. (See: "UFCW Revises Number of Workers in Labor Dispute," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2004, Business C-11)

--- END NOTE ---

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