The end of the seven-week Southern California supermarket strike appeared in sight this morning when negotiators for 22,000 striking and locked-out meat cutters and Teamsters agreed to ask their members to vote on a new contract offer made by seven supermarket chains.
Members of the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers are expected to vote Thursday on whether to accept the new proposal from the Food Employers Council, which represents the market chains.
The new offer was made during an all-night negotiation session that began at 7 p.m. Sunday and ended at 6 a.m. today.
Both sides refused to discuss the terms of the new offer.
Normally, unions do not vote on a contract proposal until their negotiators reach a tentative settlement with management. In this case, according to the Teamsters' chief negotiator Jerry Vercruse, the markets' offer was not favorable enough to gain such an accord but close enough that "we feel we have to present (it) to the membership."
Spokesmen for the food employers were not available for comment.
Requests Turned Down
In past weeks, the unions had turned down the markets' request for membership votes on other contract offers.
The primary sticking point in the Teamster talks was the union's refusal to accept a management demand for a "two-tier" wage system, in which employees hired after the adoption of a new contract would be paid significantly lower wages.
Market negotiators recently agreed to limit the use of the two-tier system to only about 20% of the work force--automobile mechanics and non-food warehouse workers. But Teamster negotiators continued to vow that there would be no contract until the two-tier proposal was completely eliminated.
Representatives of the meat cutters had indicated grudging willingness to accept a similar two-tier wage plan but only if the markets guaranteed that they would not use the system to cut the hours of veteran, higher-paid employees.
Both unions had vowed not to return to work until contracts with both have been resolved. The Teamsters represent 12,000 truck drivers and warehouse employees, while the United Food and Commercial Workers represent 10,000 meat cutters and meat wrappers.
The market strike, the first by Southern California Teamsters and meat cutters since 1973, began Nov. 5 after talks on contracts fell apart.
Lockouts by 6 Chains
The only chain that was actually struck by the unions was Vons. In a show of management solidarity, six other chains--Albertson's, Alpha Beta, Hughes, Lucky, Ralphs and Safeway--locked out members of the unions when the Vons strike began.
About 1,000 stores between San Diego and San Luis Obispo were affected.
The strike has been marked by persistent violence against supermarket property. About 60 people, including a number of union members, have been arrested, and there have been more than 20 strike-related injuries.