US: Ralphs Indicted for Grocery Strike Labor Violations

A federal grand jury indicted the Ralphs grocery chain today on criminal charges alleging that store managers secretly rehired locked-out workers during the bitter Southern California supermarket labor dispute in 2003-04.

Ralphs allegedly used false names and false Social Security numbers to conceal its illegal hiring of the workers, which the supermarket chain pursued to help the grocer weather the strike and lockout that pitted three major chains against the United Food and Commercial Workers union, according to the 53-count indictment.

"Ralphs allegedly took numerous steps to conceal its rehiring of locked-out employees, including assigning those employees to stores far from their normal workplace, moving them from store to store and requiring them to wear name tags bearing their false names," U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang in Los Angeles said in a statement.

The long dispute affected 59,000 workers at 852 supermarkets in Southern and Central California, disrupting shopping habits for millions of consumers. Ralphs operates about 300 stores.

The battle began Oct. 11, 2003, when the UFCW struck Vons and Pavilions, which are owned by Safeway Inc. Ralphs, a division of Kroger Co., and Albertsons Inc. - which were bargaining jointly with Safeway - then locked out their union workers.

The dispute finally ended Feb. 29, 2004, when UFCW members ratified a new contract that provided reduced wages and health benefits for new hires.

The 106-page indictment handed up by the grand jury alleged that Ralphs' actions reflected "tacit approval, if not encouragement, by Ralphs senior management to hire locked-out and striking employees as temporary replacement workers."

But Kroger strongly denied that claim.

The Cincinnati-based company said it had previously acknowledged that "a number of its store managers" did rehire locked-out workers using false names and Social Security numbers.

But "the actions were wrong and contrary to explicit company policy," Paul Heldman, Kroger's senior vice president, said in a statement, adding that the company had taken unspecified disciplinary action against the managers.

AMP Section Name:Labor

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