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Perishables Are Scarcer at Some Supermarkets

California

Vons and Albertsons seem to be affected more than Ralphs in the wake of Teamsters' support of pickets at warehouses.

November 29, 2003|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Supplies at Southland supermarkets appeared to be a mixed bag Friday, with some Ralphs stores boasting nearly full shelves even though Teamsters are now honoring United Food and Commercial Workers union picket lines at warehouses.

Perishables such as fruit and vegetables were considerably scarcer at Vons and Albertsons, according to a spot-check of several stores. It was not immediately clear whether that was related to the Teamsters union action, or reflected the generally thinner stock at these stores, compared with Ralphs, since the UFCW pulled its pickets from Ralphs on Oct. 31.

The UFCW struck Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores Oct. 11, prompting Safeway's bargaining partners -- Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Albertsons Inc. -- to lock out their workers the next day. The supermarkets want workers to shoulder a share of health-insurance costs; the union says they are asking too much.

Mediated contract talks will resume Tuesday, union official Rick Icaza said Friday. Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles, said both sides had agreed to a request by federal mediator Peter J. Hurtgen to return to the bargaining table. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service could not be reached for confirmation.

The UFCW pulled its pickets from Ralphs to focus its effort on Safeway and Albertsons. The supermarket union got a boost Monday, when 8,000 Teamster drivers and warehouse workers agreed not to cross warehouse picket lines.

The stores say they haven't missed a beat, using replacement workers to make deliveries and staff warehouses.

Ralphs spokesman Terry O'Neal said Friday that the company had brought on 300 drivers and 1,400 warehouse workers, and was looking to hire more.

"It's our intention, as long as strikes last, to continue to operate our stores, serve our customers and provide them with the quality product that they are accustomed to," O'Neal said.

Icaza scoffed at the idea that Ralphs would be able to hire enough drivers and warehouse workers to sustain its stores in the coming days. The strike is about to enter its eighth week. "I assure you that they are not going to be able to fill the vacancies they have," Icaza said.

Albertsons also has hired replacement workers, spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld said, but she declined to release the numbers of drivers and warehouse workers hired.

Vons could not be reached for comment.

Ralphs stores on the Westside, in Mid-City and near downtown Los Angeles appeared to be well-stocked with fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and dairy products. But that was not the case at Vons and Albertsons stores in the same neighborhoods.

At an Albertsons in Santa Monica, a produce worker named Alfredo was trying to display vegetables in a way that minimized the look of empty space.

"I hope we get a delivery today," he said.

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