Pharmacists Cross Strike Lines in California

LOS ANGELES - More than half of striking pharmacists at Vons and Pavilions stores in Southern California have crossed picket lines to return to work as the grocery strike shows no sign of ending.

Meanwhile, in the region's 3-week-old transit strike, which has stranded the half-million people who daily ride trains and buses, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began mailing what it termed its last best offer to striking mechanics and planned to distribute copies on picket lines Wednesday. About 2,085 active and 841 retired members of the Amalgamated Transit Union were to receive the offer.

As of Tuesday, 87 of the 143 pharmacies in Southern California Vons and Pavilions stores were open, staffed in part by nonunion pharmacists from stores in Texas and Northern California, Vons spokeswoman Sandra Calderon said.

Since the start of the grocery strike on Oct. 11, when 70,000 grocery clerks from three companies -- Kroger Co.'s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.'s Vons, and Albertsons Inc. -- went on strike or were locked out in Southern and Central California, 120 union pharmacists have crossed picket lines to return to work, Calderon said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union confirmed that pharmacists have returned to work, and said Vons' efforts to call pharmacists back was an attempt to demoralize the union.

UFCW spokeswoman Barbara Maynard said pharmacists were a relatively easy target because they're health care providers whose first concern is the welfare of those who depend on them for prescriptions. All of Albertsons' pharmacies have remained open, with the exception of six stores that are next to Savon pharmacies, which are owned by Albertsons, company spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld said. Most of Albertsons' pharmacies are nonunion, she said.

Grocery workers have also been striking in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. Similar struggles are expected in upcoming months in the Phoenix and Washington, D.C. areas. The strikes center in large part on concerns about health care coverage.
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