Union, grocery stores extend talks

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 in Arizona and Safeway and Fry's have extended their contract negotiations indefinitely, avoiding a strike over the weekend.

All of the Safeway stores in Mohave County have union employees, and Smith's Food and Drug Store workers are included in the Fry's group.

Fry's and Smith's are owned by Kroger.

"We want to keep the stores open and serve the customers," said Kerry Luginbill, public affairs director for Safeway.

"We are concentrated on the negotiations and are encouraged that everyone is still talking."

Luginbill identified health benefits as the most contentious issue.

Barbara Cleckner, secretary-treasurer of Local 99 and representative for members in Northern Arizona, has been unavailable for comment during negotiations.

Mike Vespoli, director of community affairs for Local 99, said Monday that the union, Safeway and Fry's can give seven days notice to end the talks.

"We hope that we can continue the talks and hammer out an agreement," Vespoli said.

Vespoli also is treasurer of the political action group that is gathering signatures to force the Wal-Mart rezoning issue to a ballot in Kingman.

The Kingman City Council on Oct.

6 approved a rezoning application for a Wal-Mart superstore just north of the current Wal-Mart.

The new store would include a grocery store,

The political action group filed a referendum application Oct.

17 with the Kingman City Clerk's office.

Vespoli said he is not involved directly with the signature gathering in Kingman.

"Reports I am getting indicate things are going well and we should have enough signatures by the deadline," he said.

The group has 30 days from the Oct.

6 council passage of the Wal-Mart zoning ordinance to submit at least 157 valid signatures of registered Kingman voters.

Heidi Cochran, Kingman resident and chairman of the recall committee, said the UFCW Local 99 did not initiate the referendum.

She said she started the process because people she talked to in Kingman wanted the people to have the opportunity to vote.

"I took out the petition package four days before the union contacted me," Cochran said.

The UFCW has 70,000 workers on strike in California at Safeway and other grocers.

Luginbill said Safeway has not targeted Wal-Mart because of its expansion into the grocery market or its nonunion work force but is competing in a low-profit margin (two percent) business with increasing competition.

"Safeway has several non-union and non-traditional competitors," she said.

"Even Toys-R-Us has announced they will carry groceries."

She listed convenience stores, drug stores, K-Mart, Costco, Price Club, convenience stores and possibly Sears as competitors.

A rezoning protest by Smith's Food and Drug triggered the requirement for a supermajority City Council vote that defeated the original Wal-Mart zoning request in August.

A second rezoning application filed by the city was passed by the City Council on Oct.

6.

On Oct.

22, Smith's challenged the legality of the rezoning in a filing with the city clerk's office, claiming the city had to wait at least a year before refilling the rezoning request.

If a vote on the Wal-Mart rezoning is to be held, the City Council could schedule it for March 9, which would be the date for the mayoral and council primary elections.

If too few valid signatures are gathered, the ordinance passed by the Kingman City Council to rezone 12 acres of the 25-acre Wal-Mart superstore site goes into effect.

The site is between Stockton Hill Road and Mohave Wash north of the current Wal-Mart store.