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News Briefs

Supermarket Strike Affects 859 California Stores

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- LOS ANGELES

Store shelves appeared fully stocked but the aisles were largely empty of shoppers as a supermarket strike at the biggest grocery chains in southern and central California entered its third day on Monday evening.

Picket lines were set up outside hundreds of supermarkets starting Saturday night as United Food and Commercial Workers members walked off the job here for the first time in 25 years. The strike was called against the Vons and Pavilions chains, which are operated by Safeway Inc. The owners of their chief competitors, Albertson’s and Ralphs, locked out UFCW workers as part of a joint negotiating strategy.

The action affects 859 stores and 70,000 workers.

Oscar Herrera, 30, an inventory control clerk at a Vons market in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, said that picketing had turned away about half of the market’s customers. “The other half are getting a couple things,” he said. “That’s all we ask. All we ask is you keep shopping to a minimum and try not to come back until this is resolved.”

There did not appear to be any panic buying, in part because the Los Angeles metropolitan area has numerous other grocery outlets, including Costco, Gelson’s, and Stater Bros.

While the disruptions from the grocery strike appeared minimal, Los Angeles commuters could be in for considerable misery starting Tuesday morning. Mechanics for the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Monday afternoon they would go on strike at midnight after talks failed to resolve differences over the transit authority’s contribution to the union health fund.

Pentagon Examining Suicide Rate Among Soldiers Stationed in Iraq

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Army officials sent mental-health experts to Iraq last month to study cases of suspected suicide among ground troops, and to determine whether sufficient counseling was available for soldiers, a Defense Department official said on Monday.

Pentagon officials are trying to determine whether the reported suicides can be attributed to combat stress or to the growing length of tours in Iraq, or whether the numbers of deaths attributed to self-inflicted wounds are in keeping with suicide rates within the military when not deployed.

USA Today, in an article on Monday about the work of the new Army mental-health team, quoted military officials as saying that at least 11 Army soldiers and three Marines had committed suicide in Iraq over the past seven months.

Promoting Flu Shots for All

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Health officials across the United States, concerned that the public has become complacent about the potentially serious complications of influenza, have mounted an aggressive campaign to persuade as many people as possible to be vaccinated this fall.

“We’ve had three relatively mild flu seasons, and I think people have short memories and may forget how ill they can get from influenza,” said Dr. Carolyn Bridges, a medical epidemiologist and flu specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But this will also be the first post-SARS flu season, and health authorities have been debating how people’s fears about the new disease will affect the vaccination push. They also worry that simultaneous outbreaks of influenza and SARS, should it return this winter, could overwhelm the health care system.

Some say that SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has raised public awareness of respiratory illnesses in general and could spur demand for the influenza vaccine.

Flu vaccination rates, even among groups most at risk for serious influenza episodes, routinely fall well below 50 percent.

“People are reading and seeing a lot more than usual about respiratory diseases, and we hope that will lead to increased interest in individuals’ stepping forward and getting immunized,” said Dr. John Agwunobi, secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

Many also believe that a successful vaccination campaign, by reducing the overall number of people flocking to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms this winter, may make it easier to distinguish true cases of SARS, which has early symptoms that mimic those of flu.

“The initial presentation of influenza and other winter respiratory viruses, including SARS, can be for all intents and purposes identical,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and a director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, an educational group.

Suit Over Injury to Whales Ends in Deal to Limit Navy Sonar Use

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The U.S. Navy has reached an agreement with environmental groups that restricts the use of a powerful new sonar system that could injure marine life to an area in the western North Pacific Ocean.

Environmentalists in California sued this year to stop the Navy from developing its new low-frequency active sonar system, often called LFA, which is more far-reaching than the midfrequency sonar system that has been blamed for mass whale beachings around the world.

The agreement, reached last Wednesday, does not ban the use of the sonar system but limits its use to specific areas near the eastern seaboard of Asia. The restrictions would not apply in time of war.

The Navy must avoid using LFA along the coastline in that region, as well as restrict its use during migration periods for species like the humpback and Western gray whales, said Joel Reynolds, a senior lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Navy.