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Update: Grocery Workers Hold 'Candle-Light Vigil,' Still No Strike

Union members and supporters gathered on Olympic Boulevard and Beverly Drive as a strike continues to loom.

The ongoing grocery store worker negotiations will continue for "at least a few hours" past the deadline of 7:10 p.m. on Sunday night, UFCW Local 770 spokesman Mike Shimpock has told Patch.

Also after 7:10 p.m. on Sunday night, the following statement was released by Albertsons:

"Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons are still at the table with the union. Progress is being made, but we do not yet have an agreement. Even though the 72-hour notice period has expired, nothing has changed. The terms of our most recent contract—including wages and benefits —remain in place, and our stores are open to serve customers as they usually are. We are still hopeful that a contract will be reached soon."

A spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers union previously said no progress had been made Sunday. Representatives for Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons are still meeting with UFCW representatives at an undisclosed location.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—who previously said that, while he is "absolutely against" a strike, he understands "the needs of the workers"—issued a new statement Sunday night, according to City News Service:

"As mayor, I've had to make hard decisions during these tough economic times to close a $1.5 billion deficit. We have laid off a record 4,600 employees. This year, fortunately, we were able to avoid layoffs and furloughs by negotiating a new agreement with out unions. Through their partnership and leadership, employees agreed to pay more for health care to stay on the job. And we agreed to find other ways to save money and jobs.''

Officials for the grocery chains aren't publicly commenting on the negotiations. Two stores in Pacific Palisades would be immediately affected: the Ralphs store at 15120 W. Sunset Blvd. and the Vons store at 17380 W. Sunset Blvd.

The strike deadline was set by the UFCW, which represents 62,000 employees of the Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs grocery stores in Southern California. After months of negotiations, on Thursday night, the UFCW gave three-day notice to cancel its contract. Management and labor leaders have been at the bargaining table trying to reach a deal on a new contract for eight months.

Canceling the contract removes the final barrier to a strike. If a deal can’t be reached by 7:10 p.m. Sunday, a strike can be called at any time. UFCW stewards were reportedly passing out picket signs on Sunday, in anticipation of the possible strike. Unions are planning a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. outside a Vons Pavilion store in Beverly Hills.

Ralphs said Friday afternoon it would shut down all of its Southern California stores if grocery workers go on strike, according to a report on The San Diego Union-Tribune website. It is unclear if Albertsons and Vons plan to do the same, although all three chains were soliciting replacement workers on Sunday.

Despite the possibility of a strike, clerks at Ralphs and Vons in Santa Monica said Sunday that there could be a glimmer of hope. They said the stores have still been getting fresh deliveries of perishable goods—such as bread, produce and meat—made by Kroger's and Safeway, which own the respective chains. That could be a sign that the stores don't plan to close.

"I think that does mean something,'' union spokesman Mike Shimpock said. "And if they start to move in the negotiations, we intend to stay at the table" and not call a strike.

“We’re ready to fight to preserve good jobs,” union leaders said in a statement. “We understand this is a tough economy, but we’re willing to stand up for workers everywhere being taken advantage of by profitable corporations. It is unfair and wrong for these corporations doing so well to use the economy as an excuse to squeeze those working paycheck to paycheck.”

Vons released a statement in response to the action:

We are disappointed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals’ decision to give the employers 72 hour notice of the cancellation of the contract extension. Doing so needlessly alarms our employees and our customers.

The notice does not mean a strike is imminent or that a strike will necessarily occur at any point. The notice simply allows the union the ability to call a strike if they choose to do so. Vons and the other employers intend to remain focused on the negotiation process and urge the unions to do so the same.

Union negotiators want the stores to pay the same share of their health care benefits as in the past. But their opponents want the employees to pay up to 80 percent of the costs, according to the head of the UFCW in San Diego, Mickey Kasparian. He said in June that the issue was the same as the one that prompted a 141-day strike in 2003-04.

Moreover, negotiators are far apart on the rate of pay for workers, according to reports. The UFCW is arguing that the chains made $3 billion in profits in 2010, and that one-sixth of that revenue went to their shareholders.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Sunday that while he is "absolutely against" a strike, he understands "the needs of the workers.''

In mid-June, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons announced that they had . The labor organization had been negotiating pension packages with the grocery stores. Specifics on the pension agreement were not released at the time of the agreement.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Correction: The UFCW claims the grocery chains made $3 billion, not $1.5 billion, in profits in 2010.

momof4 September 19, 2011 at 03:45 AM
I watched my father stand on the picket line the last time. My father has not called off a day sick in the 30+ years I've watched him work. It was painful to see him stand out in the cold quietly leaning on his sign while he read a book. I hope for the employees and customers that a negotiation can quickly be reached that is both fair to the workers and appropriate and fair to the employer.
BRICK September 19, 2011 at 04:55 AM
if you don't like the job, move over and let someone who really needs one have it. time to move out the loafers and free loaders and give the jobs to people who really want to work and not whine like a little baby because they have to pay for the health benefits like the rest of us.
Amanda Smith September 19, 2011 at 07:53 AM
Why can't they be like Stater Bros. and give them what they want it isn't like it is going to kill them....
kelleyarellano@yahoo.com September 19, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Brick...... needs to get his facts strait we Don't mind paying more but when the money runs Out then what? Would You pay money for nothing In return. That's like were paying them to work?

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