Informal Talks Break Off; Butcher Strike Enters 11th Day
The supermarket strike and lockout goes into its 11th day today after informal talks between management and the meat cutters Thursday night ended inconclusively.
A small group of representatives of the Food Employers Council, the umbrella group for the markets, and the United Food and Commercial Workers, representing 10,000 meat cutters, held the talks Thursday night. But the negotiations broke off quickly with no agreement.
Union officials said they agreed to accept some of management’s key demands--including a “two-tier” wage system that would allow the companies to hire new workers at wage rates nearly 50% below those paid to current meat cutters--in exchange for job security.
“Management insisted that it wanted no restrictions on the number of workers to be hired at the lower wage, and when we asked for further management proposals, they abruptedly left the negotiations,” union spokesman Dan Swinton said.
But another union official, who asked not to be identified, said, “Clearly, the supermarkets are going to try and break our unions. Nothing will satisfy them except complete capitulation and dramatic cuts in wages and benefits.”
There was no immediate comment from management spokesmen.
Formal negotiations broke down about 11 p.m. Wednesday after a few hours of unproductive discussions between the Food Employers Council and the Teamsters, which also is on strike, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The affected supermarkets are Albertson’s, Vons, Alpha Beta, Hughes, Lucky, Ralphs and Safeway.
Management representatives told federal mediator Frank Allen that the unions were not responding “realistically” to the industry’s demands for contract concessions and that management will return to the bargaining table only when the unions are ready for “serious negotiations.”
Union officials, in response, told Allen that they are at the Anaheim Hilton, where bargaining had been going on, and that they are prepared to resume “realistic” negotiations immediately.
“Unofficial talks” without the federal mediator’s involvement are not unusual. In past market negotiations, a few key officials have met in private to see if they could settle some critical issues and, if that succeeded, they called their full negotiating committees back to the bargaining table for official sessions.
Meanwhile, officials of both unions asked management to join them in a joint news conference at 2 p.m. today to help “evaluate the truth” of the issues in dispute for the benefit of the public.
A spokesman for management said the employers are “unlikely to attend the proposed new conference but would attend one under the proper circumstances with a mutually acceptable moderator, so that it doesn’t turn out to be just a publicity stunt.”
The supermarkets are demanding contract concessions that would, among other things, create lower-paid job classifications for new employees, setting wage scales for them that would be almost 50% below those of present workers. Under the now-expired contract, meat cutters, for instance, earned $13.40 an hour. Truckers earned about $14 hourly.
The unions claim the strike is effectively reducing sales. Management denies there is any significant effect from the walkout.
An undetermined number of market clerks, who are not on strike, have refused to cross the picket lines of the Teamsters and meat cutters. Management officials of several markets have warned clerks by letter that they can be “permanently replaced” if they do not report to work.
Current Contract Cited
But a spokesman for the clerks said their current contract, which expires in 1987, “specifically gives individual clerks the right to respect legitimate picket lines of other unions, so their jobs are fully protected . . . despite management threats.”
In two separate Los Angeles County Superior Court actions, judges extended temporary court orders limiting to five the number of pickets at entrances of the struck markets and distribution centers.
In an unusual move, however, Deputy City Atty. Maureen Siegel told Superior Court Judge Irving A. Shimer that the city “does not want to be seen as ‘an arm of management’ ” in enforcing limits on the number of pickets.
Instead, she said, the police should concentrate on preventing physical violence and “threats to life and property” and, in effect, not act as escorts for strikebreakers crossing picket lines.
“We are trying to maintain a neutral position in this labor dispute,” she said.