SAN FRANCISCO — Three major Southern California chains that signed a mutual strike assistance agreement in 2003 must face an antitrust lawsuit by the state of California, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here has ruled.
That decision overturned a lower court ruling in 2004.
The three chains are Ralphs, a division of Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Vons, a division of Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which was an independent chain in 2003 but is now a division of Supervalu, Minneapolis.
The agreement among the three companies was made in 2003, shortly before the United Food and Commercial Workers Union launched a 141-day strike against Vons over the issue of health care benefits. Under the agreement, the three companies said they would share revenues if any one of them was selected as the union's strike target.
The state of California 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.
The appellate court voted 2-1 to reject the chains' argument that the agreement wasn't anti-competitive.
The Southern California supermarket strike-lockout — reportedly the longest in U.S. history — involved approximately 60,000 UFCW members working at approximately 850 stores. It began Oct. 11, 2003, and lasted until March 3, 2004.