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SoCal workers, chains reach tentative agreement; strike averted

Members of six Southern California locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union reached tentative contract agreements with employers Kroger and Albertsons late Thursday, days ahead of a Sunday strike deadline.

The agreement, if approved by members, averts a threatened strike by 47,000 workers. Albertsons, parent of Albertsons and Vons stores, and Kroger, parent of the Ralphs chain, had said they would their close stores if members followed through on the walkout.

Local unions said their members would vote Monday on the proposed deal, and said they would not release details of the agreement until then. The largest union representing Southern California workers, UFCW Local 770, said an agreement for union-represented pharmacists had not yet been reached but meat cutters and clerks are expected to vote on whether the approve the deal Monday.

The agreement would replace a contract that expired in March. Workers voted to authorize a strike in June, staged boycott actions at some locations beginning late last month and most recently said they would walk out Aug. 8 if an acceptable contract hadn't been offered by then.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that Ralphs had proposed pay increases and changes to its pension and healthcare plans during negotiations this week.

Unions said issues on the table included an employer request that union members increase their contribution to the pension fund; a proposal that if the health care fund hits a certain level at the end of three years that the employers can reduce benefits; and a wage proposal one union representative called "insulting."

The two sides engaged in a 141-day strike-lockout in 2004.

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