Union negotiators for grocery workers throughout Southern California once again walked out of contract talks with three major supermarket chains on Thursday.

The union negotiators said in a statement that they were upset by the latest contract proposal from the Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons supermarket chains, saying the employers were "making unacceptable demands that would lead to further erosion of health benefits and wages for workers."

"It is unacceptable that these three companies, that are giving raises and bonuses in the millions to their CEOs and upper management, would seek to take away even more from their employees," said Mike Shimpock, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Southern California.

Grocery store advocates called the move a publicity stunt, saying the move shows the unions are not fully committed to resolving the lingering labor issue.

"Once again, the union has chosen to walk away from negotiations, ignore the federal mediator's request for a media blackout and engage in media stunts rather than productive negotiations," Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for the three supermarket chains said in a statement.

The grocery workers union is pushing for repeal of a two-tier wage and benefit system imposed at the end of a bitter strike three years ago. The three grocery chains have so far held firm on the two-tier provisions, saying they are essential to keep the grocery chains competitive within the industry. Contract talks have broken off twice in the past, only to be reconvened several days later.

The current contract, covering 65,000 employees, expired on March 5; there have been two extensions since then. The contract is now being automatically renewed on a daily basis.

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