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Grocery talks get back to the table

June 28, 2007|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

At least they're talking.

Contract negotiations between Southern California's three major supermarket chains and 65,000 union workers resumed Wednesday morning and continued into the afternoon.

No breakthroughs were reported, but it was the first meeting between the two sides since the United Food and Commercial Workers union demanded that the Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons chains deliver a contract proposal by noon last Thursday. When the chains refused, the union set a strike authorization vote for last Sunday.

UFCW officials said that 94% of the 32,000 union members who participated voted against the chains' partial contract offer. But on Wednesday, the talk was all about negotiating. Among the issues was how much the employee health plan would cost and how it should be funded.

"In Dallas and Houston last week, Ralphs' parent company Kroger offered grocery workers a fair deal after they authorized a strike," said Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324 in Orange County. "We hope that the same thing will happen here in Southern California."

Brad Chase, a spokesman for the chains, said the stores were "glad that the unions have decided to join us back at the negotiating table. Our intent is to stay focused on negotiating a fair and equitable agreement."

Both sides said they were hoping to avoid a repeat of the bitter 141-day strike and lockout of 2003-04.

Ralphs is a unit of Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions stores are owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons is owned by Supervalu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn. Talks are set to continue today.

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ronald.white@latimes.com

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