Frustrated that negotiations to end the supermarket strike have stalled, union leader Rick Icaza on Tuesday accused grocery chains and the federal mediator of stonewalling.
Icaza, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles, said he was led to believe that talks with federal mediator Peter J. Hurtgen would resume by today after breaking off last week.
Icaza said Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, never followed up on scheduling and failed to return his phone calls seeking to clarify when talks would resume.
"We want our members and the public to know that we are willing, able and ready to negotiate around the clock to end this protracted labor dispute," Icaza said in a statement. "The fact that we have not heard from the mediators leads us to believe that the employers are refusing to meet."
A spokesman for Hurtgen could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for one of the three supermarket chains in the labor dispute declined to discuss the status of talks or whether Hurtgen was in contact with the companies.
As a condition for mediating the negotiations, Hurtgen asked both sides to refrain from making public comments about them.
Icaza claimed that Safeway Inc., the parent company of Vons and Pavilions and the main target of the strike, broke the news blackout first through a Web site it maintains for its employees.
A Nov. 11 posting chided the union for staging high- profile rallies. "It is our hope that union leaders are spending at least as much time developing a comprehensive proposal that addresses the issues that led up to the strike as they are organizing rallies and press events," the message said.
Icaza said the posting prompted questions from his membership, leading him to break his silence.
Vons spokeswoman Sandra Calderon said the Web site was for employees only. "It's the same tool the unions use on a daily basis" to communicate with members, she said.
The UFCW launched the strike against Vons and Pavilions Oct. 11. Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Albertsons Inc., which bargain jointly with Safeway, locked out their union workers the next day.
Health-care benefits for workers are a central issue in the dispute.
The action affects 70,000 workers at 859 stores throughout Southern California and parts of Central California. Seven UFCW locals are involved.
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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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