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SoCal Grocery Workers Cancel Contract

Charging that management is “stonewalling,” union grocery workers in Southern California have issued a 72-hour notice cancelling their contract extension, paving the way for a strike.

Eight months of negotiations between seven United Food and Commercial Workers locals representing 62,000 workers and management of supermarket chains owned by Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu have been hampered by disagreements over health care contributions. The union has charged that management’s proposal would “bankrupt health plans and eliminate entirely health care access” for employees.

“While we are disappointed the union leadership has taken this step, Ralphs remains committed to reaching an agreement,” said Kendra Doyle, spokesperson for Ralphs, owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger. “Active negotiations are ongoing and this does not mean a strike is imminent. Our stores are open for business and we are ready to serve our customers.”

Vons, the Southern California chain owned by Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Safeway, issued this statement: “We are disappointed by the UFCW locals’ decision to give the employers 72 hour notice of the cancellation of the contract extension. Doing so needlessly alarms our employees and our customers. The notice does not mean a strike is imminent or that a strike will necessarily occur at any point. The notice simply allows the union the ability to call a strike if they choose to do so. Vons and the other employers intend to remain focused on the negotiation process and urge the unions to do so the same.”

Minneapolis-based Supervalu, which owns Albertsons stores in Southern California, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

“We returned to the bargaining table ready to compromise and make a deal that keeps our employers profitable but protects the jobs of our members,” the leaders of the seven locals said in a press release. “Instead, we got more of the same stonewalling from management. They are unwilling to compromise and are more concerned about hoarding their billions in profits than reaching a fair deal for their employees. We don’t want to strike, but if they won’t negotiate, we have no choice.”

An overwhelming majority of UFCW members, working without a contract since March, voted last month to authorize a strike. Some supermarkets have been accepting applications for fill-in workers in the event of a strike.

A 141-day strike in 2003-04, which cost the stores an estimated $1.5 billion, led some customers to make long-term changes to their shopping habits by going to independent grocers and specialty outlets, reported.

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