LOS ANGELES -- The Southern California strike-lockout escalated a notch last week as the United Food and Commercial Workers union began moving pickets to loading docks of some Ralphs stores.
It was the first time since the union removed picket lines from the front of Ralphs stores on Oct. 31 that it has targeted the Kroger division. The move comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed earlier this month that charged Ralphs with rehiring locked-out employees under false names and Social Security numbers.
The pickets began appearing early last week at Ralphs' loading docks in the San Diego area, "and other locals are considering implementing the same strategy," Ellen Anreder, a union spokeswoman, told SN.
Ralphs officials declined comment last week when contacted by SN.
Seven UFCW locals went on strike against Safeway-owned Vons and Pavilions stores in Oct. 11, and were locked out of Albertsons and Ralphs stores the following day. The union lifted its pickets from the front of Ralphs stores three weeks later in a move to minimize shopper inconvenience, it said.
However, union employees at three Ralphs stores in Riverside, Calif., chose to maintain picket lines in front of their stores because of several unionized alternatives nearby, Anreder said.
Union and chain representatives met three times late last year under the aegis of a federal mediator without coming to any agreement. Three days of informal, secret negotiations earlier this month without the mediator present resulted in some movement, industry sources on both sides said, before the talks broke off abruptly.
Sources said the two sides will probably not meet again until they are called back by the federal mediator, which could occur within a week or two, one UFCW executive told SN.
The executive, who asked not to be identified, said he was not feeling particularly optimistic at this point. "Maybe we're heading for Armageddon on both sides," he told SN. "This is beginning to look like the strike against Eastern Airlines years ago, which ended with the airline going out of business."
He told SN he believes Wall Street analysts are influencing the chains to hold firm "by telling them they should take short-term losses to achieve long-term gains in the face of growing competition from Wal-Mart."