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The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that the overwhelming weekend vote by unionized employees at Southern California’s big three grocery chains – Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons - authorizing a strike does not necessarily mean that one will occur anytime soon.

In fact, the Times says that analysts and labor experts believe the vote could jump-start negotiations and lead to a faster resolution.

“It's all part of a high-stakes, elaborately choreographed form of theater seen when a supermarket employment contract comes up for renewal,” the Times writes. “But there are some differences in strategy this time. The Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons chains may have been looking for a sign of just how committed the union's rank and file were to the idea of another potentially devastating work stoppage,” which would give management “a better sense of how hard they could push for more concessions in contract negotiations.”

As for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), it seems to be “following a new script,” according to the Times, which may be a reflection of its affiliation shift away from the AFL-CIO and to a new labor confederation called Change To Win. “There have been no loud parking-lot rallies in front of supermarket shoppers. Union officials have stayed out of the public eye, opting for telephone news conferences attended by carefully selected workers telling their own stories.” In other words, hardball of a different sort.

Negotiations broke down over wage and health insurance issues, but there now seems to be a sense that they could restart this week, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The three chains issued the following statement following the strike authorization vote: "It bears repeating that both sides have acknowledged significant progress since the start of negotiations on core economic issues … When the unions are ready to resume negotiations, we are ready to continue with the important negotiations at hand."

Albertsons is owned by Supervalu, Ralphs is owned by Kroger, and Vons is owned by Safeway.
KC's View:
The shame is that it always seems to happen like this, with the clock ticking and tensions rising. Maybe what both sides should do is, the day after a new contract agreement is signed, start working on the next contract. They’ll have three years or so to come to an agreement, and maybe they can avoid all this posturing.