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Grocery Workers Plan Wall Street Protest

NEW YORK - A union representing striking U.S. grocery workers said on Tuesday it would stage a rally on Wall Street urging investors to rethink investments in the nation's top grocers as a Southern California health care dispute drags on toward its fifth month.

The rally, planned for tomorrow, is aimed at pressuring Kroger Co., Albertsons, Inc., and Safeway, Inc. back to the negotiating table in a dispute involving about 70,000 workers, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).

"We want to educate the people who buy and sell stock from these companies about what they are doing to their employees," said Ellen Anreder, a spokeswoman for the 1.4 million-member UFCW. She said the rally would have the backing of the U.S. labor federation AFL-CIO.

The three grocers, bargaining as a unit in Southern California, have asked workers to start shouldering a share of health care costs. They say they need that concession to help them battle nonunion rivals like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

A UFCW/AFL-CIO statement outlining the planned protest said Sean Harrigan, president of Calpers -- the biggest U.S. public pension fund -- and New York state comptroller Alan Hevesi, would be among officials leading the picket line on Wall Street.

Protesters would "tell Wall Street to stop investing in these corporations and to stop putting Wall Street greed over the need of America's working families," the statement added.

In December Calpers sent letters to the chairmen and chief executives of Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger, asking them to "fairly and expeditiously" resolve the dispute with the UFCW.

Calpers has a $77 million investment stake in Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, a $71 million investment in Cincinnati-based Kroger, and a $31 million holding in Albertsons, of Boise, Idaho.

Off-the-record talks with a federal mediator aimed at restarting formal talks broke down Dec. 19, and there were as yet no plans for a resumption, according to a spokesman for a federal mediator.

Even with mounting business losses -- now estimated at around $1 billion -- the stocks of the three supermarket chains continue to avoid a sell-off in hopes that the companies would eventually win concessions from the union.

Anreder declined to comment on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's offer this week to help mediate to end the dispute. Unions are wary of the new governor, who counts Safeway as a campaign contributor.

Kroger shares went up by 1.44 percent, or 27 cents, to end at $19.03 on the New York Stock Exchange. Albertsons gained almost 1 percent, or 23 cents, to end at $23.35, and Safeway shot up 2.6 percent, or 59 cents, to finish at $22.95, both in NYSE trading.
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