We might get some clues this week on how contract negotiations will go between Socal's three major supermarket chains and the United Food and Commercial Workers. Albertsons, now part of Supervalu Inc., will be talking with Local 324 in Orange County on a new contract, with Vons and Ralphs following after that. Unlike three years ago, the UFCW will be working out separate deals with the supermarket chains (though Vons and Ralphs reps are invited to sit in on the Albertsons discussions). The union Web sites are heralding a tentative pact with Stater Bros. that, according to news reports, would eliminate the contentious two-tier wage system that was included in the last contract. The union has been smarting over that two-tier arrangement because new employees get less pay and benefits than the old-timers. No official word on the Stater contract, and the rank-and-file have yet to vote.
Whatever the deal, it's not likely to have much impact on the talks with Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons. Stater Chairman Jack Brown distanced himself from the majors during the 2003 labor impasse and union officials regard him as basically a good guy who treats workers well. He's part of the fast-disappearing old-guard of supermarket executives who generally have had good labor relations. (Another member of that group: Ron Burkle, who happens to have a large stake in Supervalu.) The union will be pushing to dismantle the two-tier arrangement with the big boys, but it's hard to imagine that will happen - not after they went through a four-and-a-half month strike and lost more than $1.3 billion in the process. A more likely scenario would involve management concessions on wages and maybe even benefits, but little or no change in the two-tier setup. In any event, the contract expires in early March. LAT Union Tribune