Southern California grocery chains, union have first mediated discussions – Daily News

on Apr22
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A federal mediator could increase the number of negotiation sessions between Southern California’s three major supermarkets and the union that represents their workers, a union leader said.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers‘ seven locals met with executives from Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons on Thursday and Friday. The two sides are still not close to settling on to a contract for about 60,000 employees, said Joe Duffle, president of Local 1167.

Last week’s sessions, however, were the first since a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was invited by both sides to help facilitate an agreement, and Duffle said that should speed up the process.

“He’s amenable to more dates for negotiations,” Duffle said of the mediator. “In fact, he’s insistent about it.”

The talks began in early March, a day after the contract with the union expired. Employees continue working under the terms of the expired contract. Since then, the two sides have met sporadically, holding two day-long bargaining sessions every other week.

UFCW officials have been critical of this, accusing the grocery chains of “slow-walking” the negotiations. The next round of talks is tentatively scheduled for May 3 and 4, with three more days near the end of the month.

Duffle, whose local represents Inland Empire workers, said last week’s talks mostly involved getting the federal mediator up to speed. When a mediator is invited, both sides typically spend the first sessions clarifying their positions.

“He got a mouthful from us,” Duffle said.

John Vatava, Ralphs’ director of corporate affairs, said the talks have been positive.

“We’re learning about each other’s needs,” he said. “It’s been a good dialogue. The union wants the best for their members and we want the best for our associates and also for our company.”

Last week, UFCW locals turned up the pressure by placing members at tables in front of selected stores, including Ralphs locations in Tustin, Fullerton, Seal Beach and Rancho Cucamonga.

Greg Conger, president of Orange County’s Local 324, said customers of the stores are offered literature on the union’s efforts and are being asked to sign petitions offering their support. The petitions request people’s phone numbers or e-mail addresses so they can be informed about the negotiations.

Conger said these efforts have received good support, with hundreds of people signing up. He added that he did not know if it would be expanded to other stores, saying it was the individual locals’ decision.

“The stores brought this on themselves, so they should be used to it,” Conger said Monday. “If they had gotten down to negotiating in good faith we could have been done by now. Instead, they just dragged it out, dragged it out, dragged it out.”


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