Progress Reported in Supermarket Strike : Teamsters, Employers Hold Secret Talks as Scattered Violence Continues

Times Labor Writer

New progress was reported Wednesday in secret talks aimed at ending the Southern California supermarket strike-lockout, but tensions continued to flare outside the bargaining sessions and there were more scattered incidents of violence.

Negotiators for the Teamsters Union and the Food Employers Council met in their second secret bargaining session within three days. Although both sides agreed that progress had been made, they differed on its significance.

One labor source close to the talks said an agreement might be reached within 24 to 48 hours. Such an accord would clear the way for the Food Employers Council, which represents the market chains, to reopen talks with the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 10,000 meat cutters and meat wrappers who have joined 12,000 Teamsters in the strike-lockout.


A management source, however, was more pessimistic and said that progress had been limited to “the soft issues.”

“All the major issues are still unresolved,” the source said.

The strike-lockout, now in its 17th day, affects about 1,000 markets from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border and is the longest Southland supermarket strike since 1973.

It was learned Wednesday that William H. Wynn, the international president of the Food and Commercial Workers, flew to Southern California from union headquarters in Washington and held a strategy session with local officials at the Anaheim Hilton on Tuesday. A person who was at the gathering said the status of the strike and possible modified contract proposals were discussed.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters and the Food and Commercial Workers on Wednesday offered a $25,000 reward “for information leading to the capture and conviction of the person or persons who injected food” with herbicides in several Alpha Beta stores this week.

On Monday, letters were sent to radio station KFWB and television station KABC warning that food had been contaminated at 42 Alpha Beta stores and that syringes had been left at six of the stores. The anonymous letters threatened to continue the contamination “until the current labor dispute is over.”

Late Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that tests of the contents of the syringes revealed a mixture that was a combination of two herbicides, 2,4-D and mecroprop. Used as a weed killer in this country, 2,4-D is one of the ingredients of Agent Orange, the controversial herbicide used by U.S. forces to destroy forests in Vietnam.


A department spokesman said ingestion of the 2,4-D/mecroprop mixture “is generally not fatal to a healthy person. However, it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and possible palpitations.”

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Department said that it had turned over some roasts, cheese and fruit taken from Alpha Beta stores to the Food and Drug Administration for testing. Bill Wade, an Alpha Beta spokesman, said the chain also is randomly checking products at its 196 Southern California stores.

A spokesman at the Covina Police Department said it had been unable to determine whether the herbicide contamination was responsible for the temporary illness Tuesday of a 3-year-old Glendora boy. The boy, who has not been identified, was treated for severe nausea and vomiting at a hospital Tuesday after he consumed some milk and yogurt purchased at an Alpha Beta store in Covina where one of the syringes was found. McKee said the boy had been released from the hospital and was fine Wednesday.

But he said the police had been stymied in their investigation. “We sent the foodstuffs to the crime lab who turned it over to the (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration. They said today (Wednesday) that they could not perform the tests because there was too much animal fat in the materials to test them,” McKee said. “We also sent them to the lab of the California Food and Agricultural Commission in Riverside and we hope for results tomorrow.”

Both unions involved in the strike have denounced the food contamination in strong terms.

“We utterly deplore this mindless, deranged act, which is an affront to civilized behavior,” said a joint statement issued Wednesday by Jerry Menapace, international vice president of the Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Mike Reilly, international vice president of the Teamsters.

“It is appalling that there should be any connection between this criminal act and any of the striking unions. The meat cutters and the Teamsters urge anyone with information about the food poisoning to call the police or the FBI,” the statement added.


Along the same line, William R. Robertson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, announced that he would ask the federation’s executive board for $12,500 to add to the reward offered by the two unions.

And a spokesman for the Food Employers Council said it would place advertisements in eight Southern California newspapers Friday offering a $100,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved in any strike-related violence, including the food contamination incident.

Los Angeles County’s health department set up a hot line to take calls from shoppers concerned about possible food contamination. Several hundred people called Wednesday, according to a department spokesman.

The spokesman said some of the callers complained that they had become ill after eating food purchased at Alpha Beta but that none described symptoms consistent with poisoning by the suspect herbicides.

Elsewhere, tension continued to mount. Officials of the meat cutters local in Artesia said they received a phoned bomb threat from a man at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday. Arnold Tiscareno, a business agent for the local, said the building was evacuated and the Sheriff’s Department called. He said the officers arrived quickly, searched the building and pronounced it safe. He said about a dozen people returned to the building by 4:50 p.m.

On the legal front, lawyers for the markets accused unions of violating temporary restraining orders limiting picketing. The employers persuaded Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman L. Epstein to order a Dec. 19 hearing where 11 union locals and two individuals will have to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court.


Ralph Scalzo, a lawyer for the Food Employers Council, said the organization is charging “hundreds” of violations, ranging from employee beatings, mass picketing, blocking of entrances to warehouses, threats and obscenities.

And in Irvine early Wednesday a truck was splashed with a caustic substance, causing about $1,000 damage in an incident that police said was probably strike-related. The incident occurred at about 12:30 a.m. at the Lucky Food Market Distribution Center, the site of the first reported strike-related violence two weeks ago, according to an Irvine police spokesman. The driver of the truck was not injured.

Early Wednesday, San Bernardino police arrested two men in connection with gunfire that shattered the passenger window of a Safeway delivery truck. Police spokesman Carl Alston said that Stephen Floyd Matteson, 22, and Jon Lawrence Mackie, 28, both of San Bernardino, were booked for investigation of attempted murder, illegal weapons possession and carrying concealed weapons. Both men were jailed in lieu of $25,884 bail.

Alston said two men driving a white van fired shots at a Safeway truck driven by Marshal Glenn Gifford, 28, of Bakersfield, at 12:15 a.m. Gifford, who was not hurt, pulled his rig off the freeway and called police.

At the time of their arrest, the suspects were driving a van fitting the description given by Gifford, Alston said.

The stores involved in the dispute are Albertson’s, Alpha Beta, Hughes, Lucky, Ralphs, Safeway and Vons.


Times staff writer Dorothy Townsend contributed to this story.