LOS ANGELES -- The seven United Food and Commercial Workers union locals here that are engaged in a labor dispute with Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons said last week they began picketing all three companies' Southern California distribution centers.
The move followed two days of negotiations between the chains and the union under the supervision of Peter Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Washington.
The three companies said in a joint statement they "have contingency plans in place to ensure customers continue to have access to fresh produce, baked goods and other products," and their stores will remain open during their previously scheduled hours.
A union spokesman told SN the Teamsters members working in the warehouses are expected to honor UFCW picket lines, potentially disrupting the stores' supply chains in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The spokesman noted that Teamsters have not been crossing picket lines at the three companies' stores since the strike at Vons and lockouts at Albertsons and Ralphs began Oct. 11.
"They haven't been taking stuff into stores," he said. "Where there are picket lines, they have not crossed the picket line. It's just that we did not set up picket lines at distribution centers."
He said the extension of the pickets to the warehouses was "a significant step forward," adding that the strike was gaining momentum. "You can expect to see even more activity, the extension of picket lines to more stores and more market areas."
As for the negotiations, which recessed Nov. 23, the companies described the talks as "stalled," although Hurtgen described them as "useful."
The union said it would "wait for the mediator to call us back to the table. Until then, we will honor the mediator's request not to comment in any way."
Meanwhile, the union said hundreds of workers from Southern California traveled to picket at Safeway-owned stores in Northern California and in the Washington area.
Elsewhere on the labor front, UFCW Local 400, Landover, Md., which represents 3,300 workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio who have been on strike since Oct. 13, said talks between the union and Kroger have broken off again.
Jim Lowthers, Local 400's president, told SN the company had not been willing to move from its previous offer. He added that West Virginia ruled late last month that his striking members in that state will be able to receive unemployment benefits. However, according to published reports, Ohio ruled last week that the striking Kroger workers in that state are not eligible for the benefits.