Talks on Fate of Warehouse Break Down

Times Staff Writer

With angry, worried Teamsters union members waiting outside, union leaders and officials of Alpha Beta Supermarkets bargained for four hours Friday but stalemated over the chain's plans to close a warehouse in Fullerton.

"It's the end of negotiations tonight and I'm not sure if it's the last session," David Willauer, a spokesman for the company negotiators, said after talks ended at 8 p.m. at Alpha Beta headquarters in La Habra. "We are not able to get anything accomplished."

Gerald Scott, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters union Local 952, which represents the Alpha Beta employees, said: "There's no further use in discussing tonight."

He said the company was trying to achieve what it had failed to win in the new agreement reached last week that ended a 7 1/2-week strike by Teamsters and meat cutters against Southern California supermarket chains.

Scott spent more than half an hour after the talks facing down members of his union who were upset at the prospect of losing their jobs.

Alpha Beta officials said they had warned union leaders that if the agreement that ended the strike did not allow them to hire new employees at much lower rates than what experienced workers were paid, the warehouse would have to close.

The pact did not contain the wage scale Alpha Beta wanted, and on Monday, as thousands of Teamsters and meat cutters prepared to return to work, the chain said it would close the warehouse at 444 Lambert Road in Fullerton.

But Scott said that even if the company had gotten a lower wage scale for new workers, it would not mean that all 185 workers would be called back.

After talking to reporters, Scott was forced to confront about two dozen union members who gathered in the lobby of Alpha Beta headquarters on South Harbor Boulevard in La Habra. The workers heckled him in often-heated arguments as officials of the supermarket chain looked on.

One man slapped loose change on a table and shouted to Scott: "Show me how I can make my house payment with that."

Earl Pedford, a union shop steward, said the company repeated during Friday's negotiations that it wanted to start new workers at lower wage rates than were agreed to in the master contract signed by all supermarket chains. Pedford said Scott refused, contending that a separate agreement would be illegal.

"The bottom line in the union's position is they won't deviate from this (master contract wage scale) and that's going to cost us our jobs and they won't have anybody here," Pedford said.

Scott's comment to reporters that "I'm worried about all of the people, the overall membership" of the 1,000-member local was greeted with derision by workers listening in. Later he told his union members "if there's anything we can do . . ." but was interrupted by a man who shouted, "You've got to start doing something. Sign something. What have we got to lose?"

Before Friday's negotiating session over the planned closure, Robert Butler, an assistant union steward, said a telephone canvass of warehouse workers showed that 72 of the 185 were being called back to work next Monday.

Butler said the results led him to think that as far as the chain's plans to close the facility were concerned, "I believe it's for real." Company officials said there was no guarantee that the 72 would have jobs for long.

Alpha Beta officials have not specified a date for the closing of the warehouse. Pedford has estimated that the facility could be closed within three months.

During a break in the talks, Willauer said the union was "unwilling to accommodate the needs of Alpha Beta. . . . Therefore, jobs are in jeopardy." After the negotiating session, Willauer said the company offered to have an arbitrator decide if it was legal under the new contract to negotiate a lower wage, but the union refused.

Willauer said Alpha Beta could not expand its warehouse to serve all its grocery stores and drug stores on the West Coast unless it could hire workers for less money than provided for in the agreement.

The pact does let supermarkets pay beginning workers less money than what experienced help gets but requires that they be paid at the current pay scale after three to five years of employment.

Willauer said Alpha Beta contended that the entry-level pay is still too high.

Lower rates are "a must for Alpha Beta," he said. Asked how other chains could live with the agreement while Alpha Beta could not, he replied: "The wage structure does not provide low enough rates for (the drug warehouse workers). None of our competitors service drugstores or plan to."

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