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Supermarket strikes possible as union stops contract negotiations

The union representing Southern California grocery workers said Tuesday it has broken off talks with representatives from three supermarket chains after receiving an unacceptable wage and benefit offer.

Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the Southern California Grocery Workers Union, said the group will decide by Wednesday what steps to take next. The union does not plan to return to the bargaining table, he said.

“We broke off negotiations,” he said. “There are not a lot of options available to us. If they don’t want to deal with us, then we have few options other than striking or canceling the contract extension.”

The union said talks faltered after the chains proposed a plan that would reduce their contribution to a trust fund that buys workers their health care benefits. Shimpock said the plan would put the fund at risk of bankruptcy.

Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for Supervalu Inc.’s Albertsons, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs and Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions, said supermarket negotiators were surprised by the union announcement and remained available for talks.

“The issues are important and difficult issues that require both parties’ consistent commitment to achieving a settlement,” Tessler said. “The companies remain completely committed to working with the mediator and the unions in achieving a mutually beneficial agreement.”

The two sides have not met face to face for about three weeks, Shimpock said. Instead, they have been conducting shuttle negotiations, with each side meeting individually with the mediator.

Three-year contracts covering 65,000 workers at 785 stores from San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield south to San Diego expired in March. The contract has been renewing automatically on a daily basis and continues to do so until any of the parties opts to end the process. The contract would then expire 72 hours later.

The pact was previously extended twice.

The union previously authorized its leaders to call a strike if necessary against Albertsons because it has been engaged in talks with the union since Jan. 17 — the longest of any of the chains.

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