Talks Drag on Markets Pact; Possibility of Strike Grows

Times Labor Writer

Representatives of six Southern California supermarket chains and the union representing 60,000 retail clerks said Sunday that they were not making much progress on reaching a new three-year agreement, increasing the possibility of a strike later this week.

The contract--covering workers at Albertson's, Lucky, Ralphs, Safeway, Stater Bros. and Vons--was scheduled to expire at midnight Sunday.

The six chains are represented by the Food Employers Council and encompass about 850 stores from the Mexican border to Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo.

Strike Votes Set

The eight locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the clerks' union, have scheduled strike authorization votes at various locals around the Southland, starting today and running through Wednesday.

The largest, Local 770 based in Los Angeles, will have morning and evening meetings at the Shrine Auditorium on Tuesday, with voting all day. A two-thirds vote of the members present and voting is needed to authorize a strike.

Meanwhile, two chains--Boys and Mayfair--reached interim agreements with the union, averting the possibility of a strike at their markets, according to Dan Swinton, a union spokesman. The agreements provide that those employers will accept whatever contract the union ultimately reaches with the Food Employers. Additionally, the union granted Hughes Markets a 30-day extension of the contract.

Separate negotiations between the union and Alpha Beta broke off last week and a strike authorization vote by its workers is scheduled for Wednesday, Swinton said.

Swinton and David Willauer, spokesman for the Food Employers, said negotiations during the weekend focused on two issues.

Definition of Terms

The first involves the thorny question of what constitutes the work of a "retail clerk." The employers want to expand the jurisdiction of a "general merchandise clerk," traditionally a person who handles non-food items, such as soap.

This is an important issue, because general merchandise clerks are currently paid a top wage of $8.20 an hour, while retail clerks are paid up to $12.55. If the scope of a retail clerk's job were reduced, thus creating more work for general merchandise clerks, this could save the employers a considerable amount of money. The union contends that such a change could eliminate jobs and reduce the hours of its most senior members, thus endangering their standard of living.

The other major issue is the employers' proposal that they be allowed to reduce the amount of money they contribute to employee health and welfare plans. Willauer contended that benefit levels could be maintained, even with reduced contributions, and that this would help lower employer labor costs. He said the proposal provides that the contributions would be raised in the future if the health and welfare fund's reserve drops below $60 million.

Union's Objections

Union officials say they object to the proposal on the grounds that it could endanger benefit levels.

The employers have proposed a three-year freeze in base wages, although there would be $500 lump-sum bonuses each year.

The supermarkets were last struck in 1985, when meat cutters and truck drivers walked out.

The last strike by clerks was in 1978.

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