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SoCal Labor Talks Continue Past Deadline

As three major supermarket chains in Southern California continued labor talks beyond the Sunday-night deadline for cancelling the union’s extended contract, stores remained open for the time being – but that could change in the event of a strike.

Seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing 62,000 associates in Southern California, on Thursday issued a 72-hour notice of its plan to cancel its extended contract, a move that paved the way for a strike if the two sides can’t reach a deal soon. The associates have been working without a new contract since March.

“Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons are still at the table with the union. Progress is being made, but we do not yet have an agreement,” Jeff Swanson, a spokesman for Albertsons parent Supervalu Inc., said in a Reuters report. Cincinnati-based Kroger owns Ralphs, while Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Safeway operates Vons and Pavilions stores; the three retailers are negotiating jointly.

All supermarkets were still open as of early Monday, but all Ralphs and as many as 100 Albertsons would close in the event of a strike, while Vons stores were expected to stay open, store representatives told Ralphs reported that, in the event of a strike, its stores would be reopened on a case-by-case basis. Albertsons officials said “one of the lessons we learned during the 2003-04 labor dispute is that it doesn't make good business sense to try to operate all our stores during a strike,” reported.

That 141-day strike seven years ago, during which all three chains stayed open, reportedly cost the stores an estimated $1.5 billion.

The opposing sides are reportedly deadlocked over employer contributions for healthcare. The union alleges that management’s proposal doesn’t guarantee that health care benefits will be covered for the duration of the new contract.

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