A tentative agreement reached with union negotiators

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A strike by 10,000 grocery workers in San Diego County was averted today when union negotiators struck a tentative agreement with the owners of Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions.

The two sides faced a 7 p.m. Sunday strike deadline, but labor talks continued through the night, with both sides indicating that some progress was being made.

About 62,000 employees of the chains throughout Southern California — including those in San Diego — have worked without a contract for six months, and the two sides were in dispute over worker health care costs.

Details of the tentative agreement were not released, but union officials said the pact would protect workers' health care.

“We have attained our most important goal, which was continuing to provide comprehensive health care to the members and their families,” according to a statement by union leaders, including Mickey Kasparian of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, in San Diego.

The deal still needs to be ratified by union members. That process was expected to begin later this week.

Officials with the three grocery chains issued a joint statement saying the tentative deal “continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care — while allowing us to be competitive in the marketplace.

“We appreciate the hard work, support and patience that many different people have shown during the past eight months, and particularly the past few weeks.”

A 141-day grocery workers' strike in 2003-04 cost the stores an estimated $1.5 billion and forced many workers to seek different employment.

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