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California Grocery Workers Reach Settlement

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.

We'll discuss the latest in the negotiations between grocers and union leaders.

Christie Ly, a spokesperson for Albertsons, said the stores welcome the agreement.

"We certainly appreciate the hard work, the support and the patience that everyone has shown for the past seven months and in particular the past few weeks," said Ly.

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.

"There were times, certainly over this weekend, where we expected we were going to have a strike," said UFCW Local 135 President Mickey Kasparian. "Things were slow and not moving and it just seemed to all come together in the 11th hour."

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

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

George Whalin, a grocery industry analyst, said the 141-day strike in 2003 was hard on everyone. The strike cost stores an estimated $1.5 billion.

"The last time they struck in 2003 the union lost about a third of its membership. People decided to go out and get jobs elsewhere because they couldn't support their families otherwise. So this is not good for anybody," said Whalin. "Certainly short term for the retailers it causes great harm to their profitability."

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

Whalin said health care costs will still be a factor in the future.

"The reality is that the cost of health care is going up. Employees are going to have to take more control over their health care," said Whalin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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