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Federal mediator called into grocery labor talks

April 29, 2011 |  5:21 pm

As labor talks between union officials and Southern California’s three leading unionized grocery chains have slowed to a crawl, the federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been contacted and a mediator is being brought in to meet with both sides in the coming weeks.

Officials from the seven United Food and Commercial Workers locals, who represent 62,000 Southern California grocery workers, declined to comment on which side contacted the federal agency that assists with arbitration in labor disputes and contract negotiations. Negotiation details, as well as dates and times of future meetings, are under a news blackout, according to a spokesman for UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles.

Officials from Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Last week, the labor union said its members had "overwhelmingly" voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike if they can't reach a contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. For the strike-authorization measure to pass, at least two-thirds of the union voters participating had to support it.

Strike authorization does not mean that a walkout or employer lockout is imminent. Some analysts said it could help jump-start the labor talks, which have dragged on for weeks.

The labor contract that was reached in 2007 expired March 6 and is being extended day to day. It covers checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other grocery workers across the region, including those employed by Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co.; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc.; and Albertsons, owned by SuperValu Inc.

-- P.J. Huffstutter