A&P-CANADA ENTERS LABOR TALKS AGAIN

TORONTO -- A&P's Canadian operation here is back at the bargaining table to negotiate labor union contracts that will expire over the next month.The company, still hurting from the long and bitter strike at its Miracle Mart group of 63 stores that ended in late February, will now have to negotiate new contracts for the remainder of its 176 stores in Canada.The new talks involve two different contracts:In

TORONTO -- A&P's Canadian operation here is back at the bargaining table to negotiate labor union contracts that will expire over the next month.

The company, still hurting from the long and bitter strike at its Miracle Mart group of 63 stores that ended in late February, will now have to negotiate new contracts for the remainder of its 176 stores in Canada.

The new talks involve two different contracts:

In the first, the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union is representing employees at some 103 A&P-banner stores in a contract that expires June 13.

In the second, the Retail Wholesale Canada division of the United Steel Workers is bargaining for employees at 35 Dominion stores, 29 A&P units and nine other stores.

For A&P, the main issue is bringing labor costs in line. Gerald L. Good, the Canadian operation's president and chief executive officer, stressed that the company's employee packages are far costlier than those of the competition. Many of those competitors are nonunion or have low-wage union agreements, he said. Moreover, Good stressed that the regional economic slowdown

shows few signs of abating.

"We're at a crossroads right now," said Good. "This is our 65th year in Canada through A&P. And we'd like to be a long-term player if we have a level playing field. And we'll know that by the end of the summer."

Good said the company isn't necessarily seeking a settlement that completely mirrors the Miracle Mart contract. That agreement, for some 6,500 workers represented by the UFCW, included a wage reduction of $1.75 Canadian an hour, and buyout programs and layoffs resulting in the trimming of about 700 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees.

But Good emphasized that labor costs would need to be substantially altered in the upcoming contracts to allow A&P to compete. The A&P executive wouldn't be more specific about what terms the retailer will seek.

Officials of the UFCW were unavailable for comment about the upcoming talks. A&P has indicated that the UFCW pact may represent its biggest challenge, partly because of particularly high wage disparities vs. the competition.

At the Retail Wholesale union, Tom Collins, Canada director, said the union and A&P have been coming closer together in recognizing the need for cooperation. He pointed to the union's agreement with A&P two years ago, which represented a more cooperative effort, he said.

"We set a path last time so I'm hopeful we can work it out this time," Collins said.