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Market Talks in Slow Cooker as Strike Drags On

Times Labor Writer

Negotiations in Southern California’s four-day-old supermarket strike continued Friday as markets geared up for the first weekend of shopping since the walkout began.

Picketing intensified at the 164 Vons stores in Southern California. And consumers in some areas found it more difficult to get the cuts of meat they wanted. One Temple City man complained to a reporter that he searched in vain for filet mignon at Albertson’s, Ralphs and Safeway stores.

Meanwhile, Vons secured a court order from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John L. Cole limiting the number of pickets at market entrances, similar to a ruling lawyers for a number of market chains obtained Thursday from another Superior Court judge restricting picketing at their warehouses.

Uncontested Order

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Friday’s order, which was uncontested by the unions, limits striking unions to five pickets per entrance at each Vons store and bars the blocking of entrances or harassing of customers or employees. The order further prohibits pickets from drinking alcoholic beverages within 400 yards of a store entrance.

Cole’s ruling also prohibits pickets from entering stores. This was a restraint that the market chains were particularly anxious to obtain after incidents Thursday in which groups of union members walked into stores, chanting and singing, and successfully urged a number of retail clerks to leave their jobs in support of the strike.

A similar demonstration was held Friday at the Vons Value Center in Orange, but it was considerably less boisterous than the previous incidents. About 50 meat cutters and Teamsters picketed the store and persuaded about 35 clerks and clerks’ helpers to leave.

Debbie Estrada, a clerk who walked out, said she felt her action might lead to a quicker resolution of the strike.

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“The faster we support the strikers, the sooner the strike might be settled,” she said. “Vons is a good company, but they can’t run the stores by themselves.”

Less Violence

There was less violence on picket lines Friday than on previous days. More than 10 people have been injured in picket line incidents.

Late Thursday and early Friday morning, snipers fired in separate incidents at two independent truckers hauling food on Interstate 5 in Tustin and Downey. Police said one trucker was hit in the arm by a rifle bullet.

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Meanwhile, the number of arrests in the strike rose to about 40 in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Progress in negotiations was reported to be slow. Negotiators for the striking Teamsters Union were talking with the Food Employers Council, which represents management of the major supermarket chains. Representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers, who bargain for the striking meat cutters, sat in on the discussions.

Talks between the Teamsters and the council had recessed at 12:20 a.m. Friday in Long Beach after several hours of discussion about one issue: management’s demand that it be allowed to subcontract work that is done by unionized drivers, warehouse personnel and office employees. The talks were moved later Friday to the Anaheim Hilton Hotel.

David Willauer, a council spokesman, said “some progress” had been made at the earlier session. Jerry Vercruse, chief negotiator for the Teamsters, said that management had agreed to present a list of situations when it wanted to subcontract and that the union would review the list.

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Other key Teamster issues involve management’s demand that it be allowed to impose a lower wage scale on newly hired employees and be allowed to move into new warehouses without automatically granting the union recognition at those locations.

The principal unresolved meat cutter issues are management’s goal of cutting the guaranteed workday from eight hours to four; its introduction of a lower-paid meat clerk classification that would cover about 70% of the tasks done by meat cutters; and its reduction of the number of hours a day that stores are required to have a journeyman meat cutter on duty.

Vons Sales Off

Sales at Vons, the chain that the striking unions chose as their initial target, are down 10% since the walkout began, according to Dan Granger, Vons marketing vice president. He said the stores’ meat supply was improving, however. But “we’re still having trouble” getting enough drivers to deliver food from warehouses, he said.

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An informal survey by Times reporters found that the strike’s impact varied from one Vons store to another.

One shopper told a Times reporter that she had been able to find only 20 of 40 items on her shopping list Friday morning at the Vons store on Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena. However, there appeared to be an adequate supply of steaks, chops and canned hams at the store. Most checkstands were open and the normal complement of grocery baggers was on hand.

But at the Vons store on National Boulevard near the Santa Monica Freeway in West Los Angeles there was no fish and only a limited selection of meats, especially pork. The store had no milk, as was the case at the Vons store on Wilshire Boulevard and 13th Street in Santa Monica.

At four Vons stores in central Los Angeles and one in Downey, however, most cuts of meat and poultry were in good supply. Fish was available in small quantities. Plenty of meat was available at a Vons store in Mission Hills and at two stores in Woodland Hills, although one was short of chicken.

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Teeming With Business

And the new Vons Pavilion in Garden Grove was teeming with business Friday morning despite the presence of a dozen pickets. The meat supply was plentiful. Store manager Larry Vanderdoes said about eight management employees and four temporary workers were handling the meat cutting.

As the strike lengthens, however, there are signs that some consumers are starting to hoard meat.

“They (customers) have been panic buying,” said Steve Scarpa, store manager of the Albertson’s Food Center on Rosemead Boulevard in Temple City. “We’ve had the best week in a long time.”

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At the Safeway store on Azusa Avenue in Covina, housewife Theresa Worthington filled her shopping cart with close to 30 pounds of beef, chicken and pork. The bill came to $100.

“I can’t take a chance that the strike is going to last,” she said. “My daughter is an invalid and it is essential that she have protein.”

Safeway is one of six large chains that locked out its meat cutters and Teamsters in a prearranged act of unity with Vons after the unions struck Vons at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The unions have been picketing Safeway distribution centers and leaders said they planned to start picketing Safeway’s 182 retail outlets within days. The Teamsters have delayed earlier plans to target Ralphs markets for picketing.

The market chains involved in the dispute are Albertson’s, Alpha Beta, Hughes, Lucky, Ralphs, Safeway and Vons. Stater Bros. is the only chain that has not locked out employees from the striking unions.

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Four chains--Big Bear, Foods Co., Gelson’s and Mayfair--have signed interim agreements with the unions and are not being struck. And on Friday night Stater Bros. signed a similar agreement. Those chains have agreed to abide by whatever contract is negotiated between the unions and the council.

Although most of the chains’ retail stores have not been picketed, they are still being affected by the strike. All their warehouses are being picketed and most have had difficulty recruiting delivery drivers. At a Lucky store in Huntington Beach, for example, store manager Ken Kinder said his principal problem was a lack of produce. During the strike, he said, the store is getting only three deliveries a week, while it usually receives one a day.

Some independent markets seemed to be benefiting from the strike. Ray Pachecho, a meat cutter at Plow Boys in Hawaiian Gardens, said the store was doing twice its usual business. A meat cutter at another independent, the Han Wah Supermarket in San Gabriel, said there had been a 20% increase in meat sales.

Times staff writers Mirna Alfonso, Sue Avery, Jerry Belcher, Elizabeth Lu, John Mitchell, Bob Pool, Renate Robey, Nancy Skelton and Dorothy Townsend in Los Angeles County and Ray Perez in Orange County contributed to this story.

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