LOS ANGELES — The seven Southern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union here may ask for a final offer in mid-August to take back to their members, a union official told SN last week.
Negotiations will be on hold this week but will resume next week, then go dark again the first week of August before resuming for at least two weeks after that, through Aug. 17.
“We're running into so much difficulty with something as basic as contract language that it's hard for me to be very optimistic about coming to a quick agreement on the big issue, health care,” the official told SN.
Spokespersons for the employers could not be reached for comment.
As negotiators for both sides look ahead, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last week that the area's three major chains violated anti-competition laws in 2003 by signing a mutual revenue-sharing agreement.
However, while the court ruled the agreement fell under the Sherman Act regulating interstate trade and commerce, it stopped short of ruling on whether the revenue-sharing arrangement was legal.
The president of one UFCW local told SN the union felt the appellate ruling was positive “because it said the employers must abide by the Sherman Antitrust Act and can be held responsible for antitrust violations.
“But proving harm would have been virtually impossible,” he added.
In a statement, Safeway said, “This is a victory for the grocers. The ruling confirms what we have said all along — that there was nothing illegal about this pain-sharing agreement.
“The court is saying this agreement can't be illegal unless there is proof of harm to consumers. There was no such proof. The state decided, after years of investigation, this could not be proven.”
The suit was filed by the state of California in 2004 against Kroger-owned Ralphs; Safeway-owned Vons; and Albertsons, which was independently owned at the time but is now part of Supervalu.
It charged that the agreement was anti-competitive and was not covered by a collective bargaining exemption to the law because Kroger-owned Food 4 Less was a party to the revenue-sharing agreement, although it was not involved in the labor dispute.
Under the agreement, the three companies said they would share revenues if any one of them was selected as the union's strike target, which they contended was permissible under the collective bargaining process.
The court said Tuesday the revenue-sharing agreement concerned the “business” or “product” market but not the labor market and therefore was not immune from antitrust provisions.
The agreement was made in 2003, shortly before the seven UFCW locals engaged in a 141-day strike against Vons — and a subsequent lockout by Ralphs and Albertsons — over the issue of health care benefits.