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Numerous reports say that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has decided to return to the bargaining table and resume contract talks with Southern California’s three major supermarket chains.

"We decided that we're not going to call for an end to the contract negotiations," said union spokesman Mike Shimpock. "We don't think that their mistake and misjudgment merits canceling the contract, and either having a strike or a lockout."

As reported in MNB yesterday, UFCW negotiators for 65,000 Southern California supermarket employees of Ralphs, Safeway and Vons walked out of contract talks earlier this week, terming the chains’ latest offer an insult. The move seemed to bring the two sides close to an impasse that could result in a work stoppage, which would be the second in little more than three years; now, however, it may be that the union has stepped back from the abyss.

Health care has been a major sticking point. The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that “before the talks broke off, the union and the employers were close to an agreement to allow second-tier employees to work their way into a higher level of benefits after some still-to-be-determined period of service. This step up in benefits, however, would still be less generous than what the 32,000 veteran employees — the ‘first-tier’ workers — now receive.”

The last contract – which was arrived at after a more than four month strike/lockout three years ago – expired on March 5, though there have been two extensions while the two sides continued negotiating. At the present time, it is automatically renewed on a daily basis, and either side has to give 72 hours notice before calling a strike or instituting a lockout.
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