LOS ANGELES -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union here plans to file a suit on behalf of consumers this week charging three chains with restraint-of-trade and federal securities violations for agreeing to share revenues during the Southern California strike-lockout, Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 here, told SN last week.
Brian Dowling, a Safeway spokesman, told SN the three chains involved in the labor dispute -- Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger-owned Ralphs -- do have a mutual strike-assistance agreement "that is not uncommon and not unlawful."
Representatives of the other two chains could not be reached for comment.
Icaza said the union has asked for a copy of the agreement "because we feel entitled to that information, but the chains say we are not."
In addition to the pending class-action suit, Icaza said the union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board about the agreement.
Seven locals of the UFCW struck Safeway's Vons chain on Oct. 11 and were locked out by Albertsons and Ralphs the following day. Pickets were withdrawn from Ralphs on Oct. 31, although the chain's employees remain locked out; the union has also sent informational picket lines to Safeway stores in Northern California.
Representatives of labor and management met two weeks ago for the first time since the strike-lockout began under the aegis of a federal mediator, but Icaza said the three meetings "were just fact-finding sessions at which no substantive discussions took place."
He said the talks broke off because of previously scheduled business by the mediator. "I thought we would be meeting again by the middle of [last] week, but so far nothing has been scheduled. But with 71,000 people on strike, this has to be a priority," Icaza told SN.
Although both sides had agreed to a media blackout on discussing the sessions with the mediator, Icaza said the employers had broken that agreement by saying the union was more interested in holding rallies -- which it did over the previous weekend -- than in negotiating. "We believe the mediator is being used to exploit the employers' position that they are willing to negotiate while we are not because all we want to do is hold rallies," Icaza said.
In other strike-related developments, Albertsons said it was withdrawing its earnings guidance for fiscal 2003 because of "the magnitude and uncertainty" of the labor situation.
In September, Albertsons had reaffirmed previous guidance of $1.70 to 1.75 per share for the year, but the company said 10 days ago it was unable to provide revised numbers at this time. Albertsons is scheduled to report its third-quarter results on Dec. 5.
Elsewhere around the country:
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700 in Indianapolis last week said "some progress has been made" in its negotiations with Kroger Co., Cincinnati, for a new contract covering 4,000 clerks and meat department workers at 58 Kroger stores in central Indiana.
"Kroger is addressing portions of the three issues we have made a priority," said the union in a statement posted on its Web site, and went on to identify those issues as health benefits, pension benefits and wages for new hires.
Representing 4,000 workers in parts of New York City and suburban Long Island, UFCW Local 342, Mineola, N.Y., said last week a tentative contract agreement has been reached with Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J.; King Kullen Grocery Co., Bethpage, N.Y.; Ahold-owned Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., Quincy, Mass.; and Waldbaums, a subsidiary of A&P, Montvale, N.J. Union members, who have been working without a contract since Oct. 25, were scheduled to vote on the four-year contract late last week.
Also late last week, published reports said Kroger has resumed negotiations with UFCW Local 400, Landover, Md., which represents some 3,300 workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio who have been on strike since Oct. 13. Kroger has kept the stores shuttered since the strike began.