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Union, Grocer Talks Continue

SAN FRANCISCO - Talks between representatives from the union and supermarket companies involved in a four-month strike and lockout in California extended into an 11th day on Saturday, marking the longest stretch of bargaining since the dispute began, Reuters reports.

Both sides have been asked by federal mediator Peter Hurtgen to refrain from discussing the negotiations in public. Reuters reports that a posting on the Web Site of United Food & Commercial Workers International Union Local 770 called the talks "intense."

The talks resumed after weeks of stalemate between the two sides, and observers see them as evidence both the union and the chains are looking for a way to break the deadlock.

On Friday, Mark Husson, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, said he judges "we could now be only days away from an announcement," possibly outlining a settlement. Union officials declined to estimate when the situation might be resolved, saying the issue was so complicated it might take time to get all the details correct after an agreement is reached.

The negotiations are focusing on demands by the supermarket chains that workers pay for a greater portion of healthcare costs. Pension and pay rates are also being discussed.

"It's something like a 111-page contact. It's enormously complicated," said union spokeswoman Ellen Anreder. "There are so many details that need to be ironed out."

Nearly 70,000 California supermarket workers have been idled since Oct. 11, when workers at Safeway Inc. supermarkets walked off the job after contract negotiations broke down. Stores owned by Albertson's Inc. and Kroger Co. immediately locked out their employees in a show of support for Safeway.
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