Less than one year after the end of the extended Southern California grocery strike and lockout, profits at Albertsons Inc., Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs are being squeezed by the price cuts they've made to attract shoppers alienated by the four-and-a-half -month dispute.

The stocks of all three companies have fallen since a new contract was signed in February. The chains maintain that they'll rebound because the two-tier contract allows them to give new hires lower wages and benefits than veteran workers.

The labor dispute began Oct. 11, 2003, when the UFCW struck Vons and Pavilions. Ralphs and Albertsons, which were negotiating jointly with Safeway, then locked out their union employees. About 59,000 workers were idled at 852 stores from the Mexican border to Mammoth Lakes.

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