Published on: November 10, 2003
Negotiators representing Southern California's top three supermarket chains and 70,000 striking members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union have agreed to meet this morning with a federal mediator - the first time that they have met since the strike/lockout began more than four weeks ago.
"We will go into mediation on Monday with an open mind and some level of flexibility," John Arnold, a UFCW spokesman told Reuters
However, even as the two sides planned a meeting, the Sacramento Bee
reported that the UFCW planned to ask residents of both San Francisco and Sacramento to boycott Safeway stores - believing that this move could increase pressure on the chain to capitulate to union demands.
The anti-Safeway message is being delivered via radio commercials in Northern California. The UFCW also reportedly plans to do some informational picketing at selected Safeway stores.
It was just about a month ago that union members of the UFCW walked off the job at Safeway's Vons and Pavilions units, followed quickly by a lockout of union employees at Kroger's Ralphs units and Albertsons' stores, in what was termed a "show of corporate solidarity."
The face-off is over the union's desire to preserve or improve current wage and benefit packages, while the chains are looking for a wage freeze, cuts to health and pension benefits for current employees and a substantially lower wage and benefit package for new hires.
As often is the case in these disputes, much of the conflict is being driven by the arrival of new Wal-Mart Supercenters, which are non-unionized and therefore boast lower cost structures, and therefore lower prices.
In an effort to break apart the union of the three chains, and get into a position where it can negotiate separately with the three companies, a little over a week ago the UFCW decided to stop picketing Ralphs stores in Southern California, preferring to concentrate and expand its efforts on Safeway's Vons units and Albertsons. The union said that Ralphs was not taking as hard a line in negotiations as the other two companies, and that it believed that it could reach a deal with Ralphs if it were dealing with that company individually.
To this point, it does not appear that this strategy has worked.The New York Times
this morning reports that despite the decision to meet, both sides seem more entrenched than ever. "For the cashiers and stockers on the picket lines, the fight to fend off large-scale concessions is a struggle to avoid being thrown into one of America's lowest castes, the working poor," the NYT
writes. "But for the supermarkets, the confrontation, the biggest labor dispute in the nation in recent years, is a painful investment to ensure that they can survive against Wal-Mart and other low-cost rivals."
This is the first supermarket strike in Southern California in 25 years.