[UPDATED: Tentative Agreement Reached] UFCW Cancels Grocery Contract, Removes Final Barrier to Strike

UPDATE, SEPT. 19, 11:50 A.M.: After a lengthy session that extended well past the end of the union's declared cutoff time, negotiators have announced they have reached a preliminary agreement with the grocery stores; it looks like the strike is off for now, pending a vote by the union members. Details to come as they're released.

UPDATE, SEPT. 18, 8 P.M.: While the Southern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers had originally set a deadline of 7:10 p.m. for negotiations to be completed to avert a strike against local Vons, Pavilions, Ralphs and Albertsons stores, local union representatives have said both sides are still at the bargaining table. There was no indication of whether a deal was in sight, but the fact that the deadline has been extended is promising.

The mood of workers at the downtown Anaheim Vons was morose; most employees were talking about looking for work at Knott's Berry Farm or Disneyland to stretch their union-funded strike pay. The workers have been instructed to remain on the job until told by their shop stewards to walk out, which could happen as early as midnight if no progress is made at the bargaining table.

Also, while all Ralphs and most Albertsons will be shuttered to avoid the expense of extra security for scab labor and customers, Vons and Pavilions stores will remain open if workers picket.

ORIGINAL POST, SAT., SEPT. 17, 6:45 A.M.: The Southern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers have canceled the contract between their members and Kroger Co. (Ralphs), SuperValu Inc. (Albertsons) and Safeway Inc. (Vons and Pavilions). The cancellation takes effect on Monday, Sept. 18, after the 72-hour notice period required.

While this does not mean grocery workers will be off the job on Monday, it removes the final barrier to a strike.

A strike authorization vote was held and passed on Aug. 21 by UFCW locals 8, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442, which cover Southern California as far north as San Luis Obispo and Mono counties. With the cancellation of the contract, which expired March 6, negotiatiors may call a strike at any time.

During the 141-day 2003-2004 strike, all four brands remained open; after some time, and presumably because the strike occurred over the holiday season, the union and the stores reached an agreement to stop the picketing of Ralphs, thus allowing shoppers who refused to cross the union's picket lines access to one of the chains.

That's not likely to happen this time; while Vons and Albertsons were advertising for scab labor, Ralphs management announced the stores will simply close if a strike is called, and Albertsons management have not ruled out a full or partial closure of its stores. Vons and Pavilions management have not said publicly what they will do. If the strike is called, expect long lines at Stater Bros. markets, which have reached their own agreement with the UFCW.

For our suggestions on where to shop if the strike is called, click here.

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