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LOS ANGELES - It's deja vu all over again. Southern California grocers Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons yesterday agreed to lock out employees from all three companies within 48 hours of a selective strike against any one of the operators, after which the unions the three had been talking with walked away from the negotiating table.
"We signed this agreement to protect our companies, our customers and our employees' jobs in the event of a union strike," said Adena Tessler, a spokesperson for the three grocery chains. "The decision to sign the agreement was made only after, and in response to, the unions' strike threat. While none of us wants a work stoppage, the unions' recent strike authorization and threats of future strike votes must be taken seriously."
The retailers' agreement also provides for financial assistance to any of the grocers if a strike shall happen.
The retailers have been engaged in labor negotiations with seven local unions of the United Food and Commercial Workers. The current labor contract, which was agreed to after a four-and-a-half month strike in 2003-04, expired on March 5, but has been extended to April 9.
The local unions obtained strike authorization from Albertsons employees on March 25, and have indicated they will call for possible strike votes against Ralphs and Vons.
"It is now clear that the unions are engaged in a unified negotiating and strike strategy designed to put pressure on one company to agree to uncompetitive contract provisions and gain significant bargaining leverage against the other companies," Tessler said. "The three companies have no choice but to respond with their own measures. The companies believe that this agreement is a necessary defensive measure designed to restore balance to the negotiation process."
Union officials representing 65,000 supermarket workers, meanwhile, walked away from contract talks after the chains said they would unite in a lockout.
"We've broken off negotiations at this point and we're regrouping to discuss our options," said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the seven Southern California chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Shimpock called the grocers' decision a threat against their employees and the community.
"Locking out employees -- that's exactly what they did in 2003 and 2004," he said.