So Cal Negotiators Head Back to Table

LOS ANGELES - Negotiators in Southern California's long-running grocery strike prepare to return to the table this week for the first time in nearly two months, the Associated Press reports.

The scheduled talks are expected to resume tomorrow and were arranged by a federal mediator who has been interceding for several weeks. The protracted dispute, which has lasted more than 17 weeks, has become increasingly bitter for both sides.

Commenting on the four-month-old labor dispute, federal mediator Peter Hurtgen was quoted as saying he had brokered a deal to bring the sides back to contract negotiations. "Based on my discussions with the parties, I believe we've reached a point where there is some potential for progress on the key issues," Hurtgen said. "I'm hopeful that with this next round of talks that we can move the process forward."

Formal talks broke down on Dec. 19 when Albertsons, Safeway-owned Vons and Kroger-owned Ralphs rejected a proposal by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which contended their proposal would have saved supermarkets $500 million in health-care costs over three years.
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