Grocery workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons supermarkets voted overwhelmingly Saturday to reject the chains’ latest contract proposal, a move that could have workers striking next week.
More than 90 percent of the workers voted against the proposal as union leaders contend that the stores are trying to take away health care benefits. The stores deny the claim.
Under the rejected contract, workers would have paid about $36 per month for individual health insurance, or $92 a month for family coverage.
In 2003-04, a 141-day strike by grocery workers changed the way many locals shop as they opted to try independent grocers and specialty outlets instead of crossing picket lines.
``We don't want another strike, but we need to protect our health benefits for ourselves and our families,'' said Mario Frias, a Ralphs employee.
Mickey Kasparian, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, said a federal mediator has asked for the vote totals and he expects additional negotiating. However, if there is no positive movement after about five or six days, a strike could be called, said Kasparian.
``If we don't get a deal, we'll take this fight to the streets,'' Kasparian said.
Officials of the grocery chains said recently that their proposal would limit employees' costs and raise company contributions to a health care fund.
They would also maintain the current prescription drug co-payments and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximums in the PPO plan. Additionally, the companies proposed to continue offering an HMO option, with no change to medication co-payments.
Kasparian called the proposal inadequate.
``Like most supermarket workers, I work part time and make around $24,000 a year,'' said Victoria Frantz, who works for Albertsons. ``I can't afford to pay thousands more so I can bring my kids to a doctor.''
The union has more than 60,000 members in Southern California. The grocery workers turned down an earlier offer from management in April, at the same time giving their leaders the authority to call a strike should they determine one is necessary.
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