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Union seeks grocery shoppers' support

It will ask customers at Albertsons stores to swipe their club cards to be added to a petition as contract talks with the supermarket begins.

January 20, 2007|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

Shoppers usually swipe their club cards to gain discounts at the big supermarket chains. Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers union will ask customers to use the cards to show support for grocery employees.

The union plans to set up information tables in front of 16 Albertsons stores in Southern California as it seeks to win customers' sympathy as contract talks are underway.

Shoppers who want to express their support for the union can swipe their cards through a computer, which will record their membership numbers. The union will then include the numbers with a petition it is asking people to sign.

The union believes that capturing club card numbers will provide a database of supportive shoppers that Albertsons won't be able to dismiss by saying those listed are not its customers, union spokesman Michael Shimpock said.

The action also will let customers know that contract talks have begun, he said.

"We don't want the first time consumers learn about this to be when they see picket signs," Shimpock said.

The union is obtaining only the club membership number and is not seeking to collect personal data, he said.

Shimpock said the union chose to set up tables at Albertsons stores because the unit of Supervalu Inc. was the first of the big three Southern California chains to start contract talks.

The union wants the next contract to eliminate a two-tier wage system implemented nearly three years ago under an agreement that ended a 4 1/2 -month strike and lockout in Southern and Central California. Under that system, workers hired after March 1, 2004, receive lower pay and benefits.

The union also is seeking regular wage increases and greater contributions by the employers toward health and pension benefits.

The current agreement expires March 5 and covers about 65,000 workers at Albertsons, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions.

Stephanie Martin, an Albertsons spokeswoman, said the company would let the union set up their information tables, but she questioned the need for them.

"We're very early in the discussions, so we do not know why they would be in front of our stores at this point," she said. "Negotiating happens at the bargaining table, and we are approaching all discussions with good faith."

On Wednesday, members of six union locals that represent more than 13,000 employees of Stater Bros. approved a three-year contract that will end the two-tier structure and raise wages.

The union wants to use the pact as a model for talks with the three larger grocery companies, which were involved in the strike and lockout.

Although talks with Albertsons have begun, the union has not yet met with the other chains.

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jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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