Grocery chains, union resume labor talks in SoCal

Contract talks between three major supermarket chains and the union representing Southern California workers resumed Monday after a weeklong break, officials said.

“My understanding is that negotiations are under way,” said Adena Tessler, spokeswoman for the three chains — Supervalu Inc.’s Albertsons, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs and Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions.

Union negotiators left the talks on April 4 after the chains announced a pact to provide mutual aid if there was a strike. The supermarkets said the talks had been scheduled to recess.

The negotiations were being coordinated by a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service under a media blackout on details.

Both sides have agreed to meet this week, said Michael Shimpock, spokesman for the seven Southern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The contract covering 65,000 workers at 785 stores from San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield south to San Diego expired March 5 but remains in place unless either side stops negotiating. A strike or lockout could follow 72 hours later.

Each chain is negotiating separate deals with the union.

The union is seeking hourly wage increases totaling $1.25 over three years and wants the chains to scrap a two-tiered system implemented in 2004 that pays new hires less and requires them to wait at least a year for health benefits.

Top scale now is $17.90 an hour, with the average worker making about $13.50 an hour.