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SoCal Strikers Backed By Teamsters

Striking California grocery clerks vowed to expand their picket lines into Northern California, the District of Columbia and Maryland even as Teamsters came to their defense with plans to choke off food supplies to targeted stores during Thanksgiving.

The clerks broadened their picket lines Monday to three supermarket chains in Sacramento, Fresno and the San Francisco Bay Area, said Greg Denier, national spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The union said it would begin picketing Safeway stores in the District of Columbia and Maryland this weekend.

The move came as Teamsters union members stopped making deliveries to Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores, a step called a "silver bullet" by Jim Santangelo, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 in El Monte.

"If this doesn't end it nothing will," Santangelo said of the labor dispute that began Oct. 11. "We will all be in this together."

The supermarket chains, however, said contingency plans were in place to keep stores stocked and open as scheduled during the Thanksgiving shopping rush.

"The union has again demonstrated that it is focused on attempts to disrupt the process rather than addressing the real issues that would resolve this labor dispute," the companies said in a joint statement.

Sandra Calderon, a Vons spokeswoman, said some temporary workers were already in place at its five distribution centers. "We've been stocked, we've been staffed, and we've been prepared," she said.

Grocery clerks initially called the strike against Vons stores and were immediately locked out of their jobs at Albertsons and Ralphs locations as well. About 70,000 workers are either on strike or locked out, affecting nearly 860 stores from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.

Health care coverage is a main issue in the conflict with Kroger Co., owner of the Ralphs chain, Vons owner Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Inc.

Grocery workers are targeting the distribution centers of all three chains following reports the companies agreed to share revenue during the labor action, said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Teamsters have refused to cross picket lines at individual stores, forcing management and non-striking workers to unload trucks.

A federal mediator brought both sides together two weeks ago for the first time since the dispute began. The talks ended after a few days and only resumed Saturday, but were in recess Monday.

Union and supermarket officials were barred from commenting about the negotiations, said John Arnold, spokesman for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

There was no timetable for resuming talks, he said.

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