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Grocery strike threat: Talks continue to try to avert walkout

September 19, 2011 |  8:04 am

Grocery workers threaten to strike

Representatives from Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons are still trying to work through contract negotiations even after a deadline for a possible grocery strike passed.

"Progress is being made, but we do not yet have an agreement. Even though the 72-hour notice period has expired, nothing has changed. The terms of our most recent contract -- including wages and benefits -- remain in place, and our stores are open to serve customers as they usually are. We are still hopeful that a contract will be reached soon," a representative for Albertsons said in a statement Sunday night.

Ralphs says it is prepared to shut down all of its Southern California stores in the event of a grocery worker strike.

"If there is a strike, Ralphs will initially close all of our stores," said Kendra Doyel, spokeswoman for the chain.

"During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees. We will evaluate the situation as it progresses," she said.

The statement comes one day after unionized grocery workers issued a 72-hour notice canceling a contract extension, removing the final barrier to a strike.

Albertsons released a statement Friday night indicating that it would shut up to 100 locations in the event of a strike.

Southern California grocery workers have been working without a contract since March 6.

Canceling the contract does not mean grocery workers will walk out in 72 hours. But after the contract is no longer in effect, a strike can be called at any time.

Union members voted overwhelmingly last month to reject contract offers from management, authorizing their negotiators to call a strike.

More than 90% of the eligible 62,000 unionized workers voted to reject the contract. A two-thirds vote was required, union officials said.

If there is a strike, the winners are likely to be competing grocery stores, The Times' P.J Huffstutter reported Monday

Since the last strike and lockout in 2003-04, which lasted 141 days, the three big grocers have hemorrhaged market share. As of 2004, the chains held nearly 60% of the Southern California grocery trade, according to the research firm Strategic Resource Group in New York. The share of Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilions today: about 23%.

Farmers markets, discount shops, high-end specialty stores, small independents and big warehouse clubs have eaten into their business. New rivals such as Target Corp. are coming on strong. In the last 15 months, the retailer has added fresh groceries to 140 of its stores in Southern California.


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Photo: Demonstrators cheer in front of a Pavilions in Beverly Hills as motorists honk in support of Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons employees as a possible strike looms. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times