The supermarket talks have been shelved.
Federal mediator Peter J. Hurtgen on Wednesday suspended negotiations between the grocery workers union and the Southland's three major food chains. Talks had resumed Monday after a monthlong stalemate.
Hurtgen said the sessions had been useful, but he did not say when they would start back up.
"The parties have issues and matters to reflect upon, and I will be in touch with them in the days ahead," Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said in a statement.
Going into the talks, neither the United Food and Commercial Workers union nor the Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons chains had signaled any change in positions on key issues such as health-care coverage and a lower pay-and-benefits package for new hires. Both sides were skeptical that they could resolve their differences quickly.
The union and the chains are honoring Hurtgen's request for a news blackout on the progress of negotiations.
The union struck Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores Oct. 11. The next day, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Albertsons Inc. locked out their workers in a show of solidarity.
The dispute has sidelined 70,000 workers at 859 stores in Southern and Central California but has been a boon for smaller rivals such as Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Markets Inc., which counts 19 of its 145 stores in the contract area.
On Wednesday, the natural foods retailer reported that sales in Southern California were up 13.7% in the last six weeks, compared with 11.1% chainwide.
Company executives said some of that uptick had diminished with the union's Oct. 31 decision to pull pickets from Ralphs stores.
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On February 12, 2004 the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which had stated repeatedly that 70,000 workers were involved in the supermarket labor dispute in Central and Southern California, said that the number of people on strike or locked out was actually 59,000. A union spokeswoman, Barbara Maynard, said that 70,000 UFCW members were, in fact, covered by the labor contract with supermarkets that expired last year. But 11,000 of them worked for Stater Bros. Holdings Inc., Arden Group Inc.'s Gelson's and other regional grocery companies and were still on the job. (See: "UFCW Revises Number of Workers in Labor Dispute," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2004, Business C-11)
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