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Mirroring their strategy of three years ago, when a “one for all, all for one” approach led both to solidarity and a four-plus-month lockout/strike that roiled the marketplace, Southern California’s three top grocery chains – Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons – have signed a similar agreement that binds them together in the event of labor strife this year.

The agreement “calls for the lockout of employees from all three companies within 48 hours of a strike against any one company,” according to a statement released by the companies. There also are arrangements for the companies to provide financial assistance to the targeted chains.

The deal follows the vote by Albertsons employees to authorize a strike against the company if a contract agreement cannot be reached, though no deadline was set.

The union described the agreement as demonstrating “contempt” toward employees, and immediately walked out on contract talks, according to Business Week. “With this announcement, the markets have very clearly said they would rather have a lockout or strike than compromise on a fair contract with their employees,” said Mike Shimpock, spokesman for the Southern California Grocery Workers Union.

The contract that was agreed to three years ago after the extended labor outage ran out on March 5, but was extended to at least April 9.

"We signed this agreement to protect our companies, our customers and our employees' jobs in the event of a union strike," Adena Tessler, spokesperson for the three groceries companies said. "The decision to sign the agreement was made only after, and in response to, the unions' strike threat. While none of us wants a work stoppage, the unions' recent strike authorization and threats of future strike votes must be taken seriously.

"It is now clear that the unions are engaged in a unified negotiating and strike strategy designed to put pressure on one company to agree to uncompetitive contract provisions and gain significant bargaining leverage against the other companies," Tessler said. "The three companies have no choice but to respond with their own measures. The companies believe that this agreement is a necessary defensive measure designed to restore balance to the negotiation process."

Albertsons is owned by Supervalu, Ralphs is owned by Kroger, and Vons is owned by Safeway.
KC's View:
It was John F. Kennedy who once said, “Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible will make violent revolutions inevitable.”

We can only imagine that the discussions to this point seem to suggest that peaceful revolution – a fundamental change in the management-labor equation that will benefit both sides in the long run and make the companies more viable and competitive – is unlikely, and therefore violent revolution is necessary.

If so, that’s too bad. Because it seems probable in such an event that no fundamental and innovative changes will take place, and that the carousel will keep spinning faster and faster, with little progress being made.

That’s a shame. Maybe the situation can be salvaged. We hope so, for the chain’s sake.

Of course, while these events transpire, there is Tesco…building stores and looking to the future.