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Ralphs says it will close stores if workers go on strike. Albertsons may follow. [Updated]

Ralphs
The labor fight between union officials and grocery employers spilled outside of the negotiation room  Friday as Ralphs announced that the company would “initially” close all 250 of its Southern California stores if workers go on strike.

How long these stores would remain closed is unclear.

About 18,000 employees are covered by the contract currently being negotiated between Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons and the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Ralphs has an estimated 22,000 employees in Southern California.

“During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees,” Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel said in a statement Friday. “We will evaluate the situation as it progresses.”

[Updated at 7:54 p.m.  Late Friday, a spokesperson for Albertsons confirmed that it too could shutter some of its stores in the event of a labor stoppage. Albertsons operates 215 stores in Southern California and has about 16,700 UFCW employees.

["We have contingency plans in place in the unfortunate event that there is a strike," the company said in a statement. "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. At this point, we believe up to 100 stores could close for some or all of the strike. Any decision to reopen closed stores will be based on the business conditions at that end of a strike. We hope it does not come to this."

[A spokesman for Vons, which is owned by Safeway, said the company plans on keeping its stores open.]

The news came less than a day after UFCW officials gave a 72-hour notice to cancel their labor contract extension with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Such a notice is a mandatory step before a walkout. Once the contract is no longer in effect, grocery workers can strike at any time.

The canceled contract, however, does not mean that workers will necessarily walk off the job Sunday evening.

Union officials said Friday that Ralph’s warning was a scare tactic.

“They’re playing chicken with their customers and their employees,” said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles. “They should get serious at the bargaining table and concentrate on getting a deal completed, rather than threatening employees.”

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-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: NAACP members participating in the NAACP's 102nd annual national convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center in July join a labor march and rally in front of a Ralphs grocery store. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

 
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