updated 1/11/2004 6:32:47 PM ET 2004-01-11T23:32:47

Four days of secret, informal negotiations between Southern California grocery workers who have been on strike for three months and their employers ended Sunday without success, a union spokeswoman said.

Representatives from seven local unions and from the grocery chains Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons met at a secret location without a federal mediator in hopes of producing a settlement, said Ellen Anreder, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The talks were intensive and “completely off the record” until they broke down Sunday, she said.

“We were trying to change the atmosphere a little bit, trying to see if that would make a difference, but it didn’t,” Anreder said.

About 70,000 grocery clerks from Kroger Co.’s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Albertsons Inc. walked out Oct. 11 over contract differences, particularly the cost and scope of health care benefits for current employees and future hires.

Anreder said formal negotiations will resume later this month, although she didn’t have a specific date.

Striking employees became ineligible for medical benefits Jan. 1, and must pay if they want insurance through March.

Sandra Calderon, a spokeswoman for Vons, confirmed the talks and said the two sides made “limited progress.” She would not elaborate.

Terry O’Neil, spokesman for Ralphs, said he had no comment. A spokeswoman from Albertsons did not return phone calls.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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