OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Dominick's Finer Foods here said it has reached tentative agreement with two locals of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union -- nearly three years after talks began.

The proposed three-year agreement will be sent to members of UFCW Locals 1546 and 881 within the next couple of weeks, with voting expected to follow.

Local 1546 represents approximately 4,000 grocery clerks and 2,000 meat, seafood and deli clerks; Local 881 represents approximately 2,000 grocery clerks. Dominick's operates 99 stores, down from 113 when negotiations began.

With the union's contracts set to expire on Nov. 8, 2002, Safeway gave the union its "last, best and final" offer -- an offer the members rejected by a vote of 90%. That proposed contract reportedly sought to increase employee contributions to the health care and pension funds, to slow the pace at which workers could advance and to seek early retirement for higher-paid employees so the chain could hire new employees at a lower pay tier.

After Dominick's employees had rejected Safeway's offer, they were preparing to conduct a "walk and work" strike, in which they would walk outside during breaks to voice their displeasure with the company, the union said. A day before that process was scheduled to begin, Safeway told the union it would put the chain up for sale and asked for a contract extension.

When the potential buyer -- reportedly Minneapolis-based Supervalu -- pulled out of a tentative agreement, Safeway decided to retain the chain and agreed to a day-to-day contract extension as it prepared to reopen negotiations.

However, talks stalled when Safeway was forced to focus on the strike in Southern California in late 2003 through February 2004.