Union workers are taking aim at Albertsons Inc. once again.

This time, the United Food and Commercial Workers are objecting to the Boise, Idaho-based company handing off Albertsons stores to Bristol Farms to grow the upscale chain. The union is concerned that union jobs will be lost because Bristol Farms' workers aren't unionized.

Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for UFCW Local 770, said that union jobs have been displaced with a Westchester Albertsons becoming a Bristol Farms. The 35,000-square-foot store is scheduled to open later this year.

"They have continued to say that they are separate companies, and they are not obligated to carry on the union packages. We look at that as pretty absurd," said Maynard. "They are the same store. One of them is simply dressed up a little bit."

Stacia Levenfeld, an Albertsons spokeswoman, disputed Maynard's charge, saying that the Westchester employees were offered jobs at nearby Albertsons stores. She added that Bristol Farms is an independent subsidiary of Albertsons, and Bristol Farms now controls employee matters there. "It is kind of like if we sold the store to any other company," Levenfeld said.

The union has started a petition drive at Bristol Farms and Albertsons locations. In addition, commercials have been airing that detail the UFCW's opposition to the sales.

The union claims the conversions are part of a broader Albertsons' strategy to shift away from the company's strike-tainted Albertsons brand while decreasing the number of comparatively costly union workers. Analysts have said that Albertsons is making the conversions to hold down property acquisition and construction costs for the burgeoning Bristol Farms chain.

Albertsons bought the 11-store specialty chain last year for $135 million.
The purchase gave Albertsons a presence in the gourmet and natural foods sector where chains such as Whole Foods Market Inc. have seen growth.

Meanwhile, bids are piling up from private equity firms and others interested in buying the struggling 2,500-store chain, which lost an estimated $700 million in sales during the strike.

Last month, Albertsons retained Goldman Sachs & Co. and the Blackstone Group L.P. to help the company explore "strategic alternatives to increase shareholder value."

Beef Brand
In a move applauded by California grocers, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has killed legislation that would have mandated beef products be sold with labels indicating country of origin.

The governor's veto message said that the bill "would be unworkable, costly and impossible to enforce while providing no improvement in public health protection or additional benefits to the consumer."

The California Grocers Association, which opposed the legislation, concurred. Paul A. Smith, the association's vice president of government relations, said the bill would have forced retailers to maintain an onerous trail of paperwork on their products' origins.

"You can have a cow born in the United States, shipped up to Canada, coming back down to the United States for feedlot and then shipped to Mexico for slaughter," said Smith. "It is ultimately just very difficult and very expensive for retailers to comply on a consistent basis."

But Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, who sponsored the country-of-origin legislation, said grocers haven't had too much trouble with seafood labeling. The federal government's requirement that seafood products include country-of-origin tags went into effect earlier this year.

"It is a relatively modest bit of additional work. It would be worth it in terms of the tradeoff for consumer choice," he said.

The beef labeling bill was intended to pick up where the federal government has stalled. At the federal level, beef labeling requirements have been pushed back until at least 2007.

Fueling Sales
A survey by Shop.org/BizRate Research has found that 40 percent of online shoppers say they've increased their Internet shopping lately in order to economize on gas. The survey was based on a poll of over 1,500 online buyers and nearly 120 online retailers.

The results correspond with what Brett Morrison, a founding partner at Los Angeles-based Onestop Internet Inc., has seen in recent weeks. "September was surprisingly high volume for us," said Morrison, who handles online sales for apparel manufacturers.

Of online retailers surveyed by Shop.org/BizRate Research, 54 percent anticipated sales growth between 20 percent and 99 percent this holiday season.

Chin Change
Sunset Boulevard Chinese restaurant staple Chin Chin will close this month and, when it reopens in November, no longer be all Chinese.

Bob Mandler, chief executive and founder of Santa Monica-based Chin Chin International Ltd., said the renovated restaurant will serve a mix of Thai, Japanese and Chinese foods.

Along with the new concept, the restaurant is getting a new name: it will be called Chin Chin Grill. If all goes well at the Sunset Boulevard location, the concept could be rolled out to Chin Chin's five other restaurants.

*Staff reporter Rachel Brown can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 224, or by e-mail at rbrown@labusinessjournal.com .

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