Thousands of striking grocery workers marched yesterday in Los Angeles as union leaders called for a one-day boycott of stores owned by Safeway Inc., which include the Vons and Pavilion chains.

Union leaders call
for Safeway boycott

Union leaders from around the country called yesterday for a one-day boycott of North American stores owned by Safeway Inc. to show support for 70,000 grocery workers involved in a two-month labor dispute.

"We want to empty those stores," said Doug Dority, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers. "We want to make sure these cash registers are empty."

The union did not disclose further details of the proposed boycott.

"This is an old tactic that won't impact what's going on in Southern California," Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling said. "We'll make sure that our customers and our employees understand the real issues."

Alexander Winslow, Safeway director of public affairs, said he didn't expect the action to have any meaningful affect on operations at the company's 18 Hawaii stores.

Local Safeway employees have a contract that runs through April 2004, he said.

Winslow pointed out that the two-tiered system proposed for California that has drawn union fire over the course of negotiations is already part of its labor agreements in Hawaii, Washington D.C., Alaska and Oregon.

Pat Loo, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 480, which represents Hawaii Safeway employees, was off island and unavailable for comment.

The union strategy was announced in Los Angeles after 500 leaders and workers met for two hours behind closed doors at a Century City hotel then marched with thousands of other workers to a supermarket in Beverly Hills.

"It's good that they're supporting us because I know when there are others that need support, we support them, too," said Nicola Davis, a Ralphs cashier. "It needs to be settled."

Safeway, Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co. are locked in the dispute with Southern California grocery clerks over the cost of health care coverage and other issues.

Clerks went on strike or were locked out Oct. 11 at nearly 860 Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. Safeway owns the Vons and Pavilion chains.

Rick Icaza, president of Local 770 of the UFCW, said other unions had vowed to raise $4 million for a general strike fund that would aid the grocery workers.

Negotiations were scheduled to resume Friday between the supermarket operators and the grocery clerks. It will be first bargaining session between the two sides since talks broke off Dec. 7.

The UFCW said the grocery chains withdrew a proposal for a cost-of-living increase in the third contract year and shaved $1.08 an hour off the proposed contribution to health care premiums.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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