Both sides are suddenly talking tough. The three major supermarket chains - Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons - announced that they would lock out employees at their Socal stores if any of the chains becomes the target a strike. In response, union officials broke off contract talks with the chains. As you might recall, this is how the devastating 2003 labor dispute got started, when the union ordered a strike against Vons, and Ralphs and Albertsons locked out workers. This time, union members have given their officials the authority to call a strike against Albertsons. There's still some question about the legality of the three big chains joining forces, especially since the union is negotiating separate contracts with the chains (in 2003 the chains were a single bargaining unit). The union won't be able to call a strike until next week, perhaps giving everybody some wiggle room to rachet down the rhetoric. The problem is that both sides hold pretty entrenched positions. The United Food and Commercial Workers want to eliminate the two-tier wage system that it capitulated to in the last contract, while the chains aren't about to back down on what they had gained in 2003-04. It will be interesting to see whether L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chooses to get involved at this early date.
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