Grocery and union negotiators were expected to reach the two-week mark today in their nonstop bargaining to end the California supermarket strike.
The talks began Feb. 11. The federal mediator supervising the negotiations has imposed a news blackout on the details, but the extended duration of the bargaining has prompted some experts to suggest that there could be a deal soon.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union struck Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions chains Oct. 11. Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Albertsons Inc., which are negotiating jointly with Safeway, locked out their UFCW workers the next day. About 59,000 workers were idled at 852 stores in Central and Southern California.
Employee wages and company payments to healthcare and pension benefits are key areas of contention.
The companies want all workers to start contributing toward their healthcare coverage and have proposed a two-tier system that would pay new hires less. The union contends that the demands would, among other things, make quality healthcare coverage virtually unaffordable for its members.
Safeway and the other chains have suffered combined sales losses estimated at more than $1.5 billion. Much of that business has gone to other chains such as Stater Bros. Holdings Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc., which have reported a surge in their California sales.
Another snapshot of the spillover is expected today, when Wild Oats Markets Inc. -- a Boulder, Colo.-based chain with more than a dozen stores in Southern California -- reports its 2003 results.