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Judge certifies class-action cases against Ralphs, Albertsons

October 22, 2010 |  1:18 pm

GroceryStrike A federal judge in Los Angeles has certified two separate class-action lawsuits against grocery chains Ralphs and Albertsons -- the latest step that moves forward a legal fight between the retailers and 9,000 workers who claim they were illegally denied millions of dollars in benefits during the 2003-04 grocery lockout and strike.

The cases -– certified by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger earlier this week -– are challenging the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board's decisions that resulted in workers not receiving their benefits during the lockout.

The class-action cases, among other things, claim that the agency failed to take into account an unlawful lockout strategy.

Highberger's decision has come in the wake of a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the two California food retailers violated federal antitrust laws in connection with a mutual-aid pact they used to blunt losses from the labor dispute. Under the agreement, Ralphs channeled money to Albertsons and Vons, which had suffered large drops in sales during the bitter labor action.

When the Ralphs chain pleaded guilty in 2006 to felony charges connected to rehiring locked-out workers using fake Social Security numbers, it paid $20 million in fines and $50 million into a fund to reimburse workers and the union.

In 2009, three former Ralphs executives were acquitted of fraud and conspiracy.

Rick Icaza, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, said in a statement that the court's move to certify the class-action cases is a step "towards holding these corporations accountable for their illegal and immoral behavior."

But Ralphs disagreed and expressed confidence in prevailing in the legal fight. In a statement, Kendra M. Doyel, group vice president of marketing for Ralphs, said that the "procedural ruling leads us one step closer to a favorable resolution of this case."

Albertsons declined to comment on the pending litigation.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A union employee hands out ballots as grocery workers vote in Anaheim during the 2003-04 labor strife. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times