The union representing Southland grocery workers Thursday issued a 72-hour notice canceling the grocery contract extension, paving the way for a strike.
"We returned to the bargaining table ready to compromise and make a deal that keeps our employers profitable but protects the jobs of our members,'' said a statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons.
"Instead, we got more of the same stonewalling from management. They are unwilling to compromise and are more concerned about hoarding their billions in profits than reaching a fair deal for their employees. We don't want to strike, but if they won't negotiate, we have no choice.''
Albertsons and Vons responded with statements expressing disappointment with the union's action.
'We are still in active negotiations and have made progress during our talks this past week and a half,'' the Albertsons statement read.
Canceling the contract extension "needlessly alarms our employees and our customers,'' the Vons statement read. "The notice does not mean a strike is imminent or that a strike will necessarily occur at any point. The notice simply allows the union the ability to call a strike if they choose to do so.''
Grocery workers will begin final strike preparations following the 72-
hour notice to cancel the contract, massing at local union headquarters to assemble signs, stockpile food for strikers and their families, and continue picket training, according to the union.
An overwhelming majority of Southern California's 62,000 grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union voted on Aug. 19-20 to authorize a strike. It was the second time the union membership had taken a strike authorization vote, with the most recent action taken in response to the latest health-care proposal offered by the grocery chains.
Some of the stores have been accepting applications for fill-in workers in case the grocery workers do walk off the job.
Unionized grocery workers employed at stores from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border have been working without a contract since March 6.
Under the most recent industry offer, workers would pay about $36 per month for individual health insurance, or $92 per month for family coverage.
However, the union says the insurance fund would not be financially viable and wants the supermarkets to contribute more to prevent it from running out of money within 16 months.
No tentative agreement on wages has been reached.
A 141-day strike in 2003-04, which cost the stores an estimated $1.5
billion, led some customers to make long-term changes to their shopping habits by going to independent grocers and specialty outlets. Both sides agreed that they were hurt by the last strike.
—City News Service