Market talks prickly, ongoing

first_imgA: Supervalu Inc.’s Albertsons, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs and Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions. The 65,000 employees at 785 stores from San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield south to San Diego are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Q: What is the status of the current contract and the negotiations? A: The three-year agreement expired on March 5 but has been extended twice by mutual consent and is set to expire again on Monday. However, it will automatically renew on a daily basis until any of the parties end the process. The contract would then expire 72 hours later. The talks hit a snag Wednesday when union negotiators temporarily left the table in response to the three chains saying they would lock out workers if any one of the chains is targeted by a strike. The union said it intended to resume negotiations. A representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been coordinating the talks. In recent weeks, the union has reached tentative agreements with Stater Bros. and Gelson’s Markets, two smaller regional chains. Q: What are union negotiators seeking? A: The union wants to regain concessions made three years ago that created a two-tiered system splitting employees into separate wage and benefit classes. People hired since the last contract deal have a lower pay scale than veterans and must wait at least 12 months to qualify for health coverage. It takes even longer for dependents to quality. The union is also seeking hourly wage increases of 50 cents in the first year, 40 cents in the second, and 35 cents in the third. Top scale now is $17.90 an hour. The average grocery worker makes about $13.50 an hour. Q: What do the supermarkets want? A: The chains haven’t made their demands public. Officials do say, however, that they are operating in an increasingly competitive environment and want to manage rising costs, particularly health care. Q: What is the likelihood of a strike or lockout? A: Both sides say they are eager to avoid a repeat of the strike-lockout that occurred in 2003, when union leaders ordered a strike against Vons and Pavilions stores, and Albertsons and Ralphs responded by locking out employees. The dispute lasted more than four months and cost the grocery chains more than $2 billion, by some estimates. Still, as current talks dragged on, employees at Albertsons stores voted to give union leaders the authority to call a strike. The three chains responded by forming a mutual-aid pact and agreeing to provide financial assistance to chains whose employees walk out. Q: When is the earliest a strike could happen? A: If the contract is allowed to expire on Monday, the union could order a strike against Albertsons beginning at 12:01 a.m. April 13. The union could not order a walkout against Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions unless employees at those stores take an authorization vote. Q: What would a strike mean for consumers? A: It’s all but certain that a strike order would prompt the supermarkets to retaliate with a lockout. Workers would form picket lines, and the chains would scramble to find replacement workers to keep stores open. More than likely, the chains would cut back operating hours or close stores if they couldn’t find workers. Food shipments could also be hampered. Customers would be forced to choose between crossing picket lines or shopping elsewhere.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Three of Southern California’s largest supermarket chains and the union representing employees are trying to negotiate new contracts to avoid a repeat of the 2003 labor dispute that closed many stores for more than four months. The talks have taken a contentious turn in recent days. Here is a look at where things stand. Q: Who is involved in the labor talks? last_img

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