Lawsuits Target Grocers Involved in Union Debate

SAN FRANCISCO - The Pinellas Park General Employees' Pension Fund and the Pompano Beach Police & Firefighters Retirement System each have sued Safeway and its management in San Mateo County Superior Court, alleging that the defendants mismanaged the company and hid its problems while reaping profits from stock sales, according to published reports.

Pleasanton, California-based Safeway told The Associated Press the suit is without merit, and that the cases are part of a smear campaign by labor leaders who represent striking workers at its Southern California Vons chain.

Meanwhile three union-backed consumers have sued Albertsons, Safeway's Vons Southern California operations and Kroger division Ralphs Grocery Co. in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeking to block the grocers' agreement to divide strike-related costs and asking for damages under California antitrust law.

That suit alleges that the grocers' pact to share any revenue gains resulting from the strike creates a partial cartel in which the grocers may pool market power to the long-term disadvantage of customers.

"Multi employer bargaining agreements are not uncommon and are completely lawful. We will vigorously defend this lawsuit," Albertsons spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld told Reuters.

Officials from Kroger could not be immediately reached by Reuters for comment.

This weekend several hundred workers from southern California union locals traveled to Washington, D.C., and northern California venues to participate in bi-coastal protests, union organizers told Reuters.
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