The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is adapting what it does best -- political organizing -- to the regionwide supermarket strike, which is about to enter its sixth week.
Using targeted mailings, recorded messages from union leaders and precinct walkers, the federation is appealing to women to stay out of Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons stores leading up to the busy Thanksgiving shopping week.
"This is taking the strike into a boycott," said Miguel Contreras, the top executive of the federation, which has pledged $150,000 to the effort.
Women are the focus because they comprise the majority of grocery shoppers as well as workers, Contreras said.
The first mailing went out Thursday to 146,000 homes, targeted to women aged 30 to 45. Signed by three supermarket clerks, it asks residents not to shop at the stores because "We can't protect our health insurance unless we have your support."
The federation is also sending out postcards it hopes recipients will mail to Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking him to intervene in the strike.
Already, unions have made nearly half a million calls to members through automatic dialing systems normally used in political campaigns.
Contreras said the novel use of federation resources, if successful, could serve as a model for future labor disputes. The federation, like many labor groups, has long looked for ways to translate its political strengths into organizing and bargaining successes.
Under Contreras, the federation has developed a strong political organization that has boosted voter turnout and made the difference in numerous local, state and federal elections.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union launched the strike against Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores Oct. 11. The next day, Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs stores locked out their union employees. In all, 70,000 employees at 859 stores in Southern California and parts of Central California are affected.
Two weeks ago, in an attempt to appease frustrated shoppers while splitting the three major grocery chains, the union pulled pickets from Ralphs stores. Picketed stores have seen sales drop by 75% or more, business analysts said.
After financial markets closed Thursday, Albertsons dropped its profit forecast for the year, citing the "magnitude and uncertain duration" of the California strike. The company added that it was "unable to provide revised guidance at this time."
Albertsons had forecast profit of $1.70 a share for the year ending in January, or 1 cent less than the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.
The new federation strategy was announced Thursday morning at a Vons store in Studio City. Among those pledging support was Susie Gilligan, director of the Feminist Majority in Los Angeles.
"I think women understand the challenges that other women face," she said, "whether it's in a grocery store around the corner or a sweatshop around the world."
Representatives of the supermarkets and the union said there were no immediate plans to resume mediated talks, which broke off Wednesday after two days at the suggestion of a federal mediator.
Separately, Safeway announced that it was extending its stock trading plans to other executives on its management team, beyond Chairman and Chief Executive Steven A. Burd. The plans, established under the Securities Exchange Act, allow executives to exercise stock options and sell them at regular predetermined intervals.
Times staff writer Melinda Fulmer contributed to this report.
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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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