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Anyone need a price check on picket signs?

Ryan Carter

A trip to the local grocery store today might render a better

selection of picket signs than bananas.

Workers from supermarkets in the area are among the 98% of Local

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770’s 90,000-strong United Food & Commercial Workers International

Union members who voted to reject a management offer in last-ditch

talks that continued late Friday with a federal mediator involved.

United Food & Commercial Workers represents workers at Vons and

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Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc.; employees of Ralphs, owned by

Kroger Co.; and employees at Albertsons.

“It’s a countdown to a shutdown,” said Barbara Maynard,

spokeswoman for Local 770, adding that workers have not walked out in

25 years.

Burbank is home to three Ralphs stores, along with one Pavilions,

three Vons and one Albertsons.

At issue are wages, pay scales and increased medical insurance

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costs, which employees said will take large chunks out of their

paychecks.

Local Burbank store strike leaders referred calls to union

officials, but they seemed braced for a strike Friday.

All seven UFCW unions from Bishop to the Mexican border had

authorized their leaders to call a strike at 12:01 a.m., officials

said. But workers announced Friday that if there is a strike, only

one supermarket chain will be targeted to avoid inconveniencing

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customers.

“Workers at the two other supermarket chains will urge their

employers to allow them to stay on the job and not to act on employer

threats to lock the workers out of the stores,” according to a press

release from the UFCW.

Kroger officials said an intense market that is forcing them to

cut costs dictates the latest proposals.

“In an industry in which the typical net profit margin is just two

pennies on the dollar, the ability to manage costs is crucial to the

long-term future of our business,” Ralphs President John Burgon

released in a company statement this week. “All three of us (Vons,

Ralphs and Albertsons) want to continue offering comprehensive

benefits to our existing employees and their families, but it must be

within the context of the current marketplace.”

Store officials also maintain their salaries are competitive,

adding that health-care costs have risen dramatically.

Still, union officials said that new proposals would be a setback

for employees.

“It is an absolute mandate from the workers concerned that their

employers are going to shift $1 billion in [health-care] costs over

three years under the terms of their contract onto [the workers’]

backs,” Maynard said of the vote against management’s most recent

contract proposals. “It’s about a 50% cut.”


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