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    70,000 California Grocery Clerks Strike

    LOS ANGELES - Kroger Co.'s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions, and Albertsons hired replacement workers to keep their stores open Sunday as thousands of striking grocery workers picketed outside.

    LOS ANGELES - Kroger Co.'s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions, and Albertsons hired replacement workers to keep their stores open Sunday as thousands of striking grocery workers picketed outside.

    The workers went on strike Saturday after negotiations between union representatives and store officials broke off, reports The Associated Press. Health care coverage was one of the key issues debated.

    More than 850 supermarkets and about 70,000 union workers were affected by the strike, according to the report.

    At first, officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers union said strikers would only target Vons and urged the companies not to lock out workers from the other stores. Picket lines appeared at Ralphs and Albertsons after the chains said a strike against one company would be considered a strike against all three and began locking out employees.

    Supermarket representatives also said workers from stores outside the region were brought in. In addition, some stores were forced to scale back their hours.

    Officials on both sides did not expect negotiations to resume in the immediate future.

    The companies want the workers to take on a larger share of the cost for health benefits. The proposal does not call for wage reductions, but asks employees to pay $5 a week for individual health care coverage and $10 to $15 a week for families, Vons president Tom Keller said.

    The union wants the companies to maintain health care plans and provide raises of 50 cents an hour the first year and 45 cents an hour the following two years.

    The lockout does not affect store pharmacists, who are continuing to provide critical pharmacy services to customers, according to a press release issued by Kroger. Kroger said Ralphs intends to continue operating its stores, including pharmacies, for the duration of the strike.

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