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Supermarket union workers authorize strike; Walkout could happen this week

August 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Supermarket union workers have voted to authorize leaders to call a strike, if necessary. A possible walkout could happen as early as the middle of next week.

The vote to authorize a strike passed with 90 percent approval.

Employees have overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal from Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons management, setting the stage for a possible walkout. Thousands of employees cast ballots Friday and Saturday, with the focus on whether to accept a more costly healthcare plans.

The stores insist they're offering a fair deal that calls for modest increases in employee health care contributions. Workers say the increased costs could eat up as much as half of their take-home pay.

Even after the vote, both sides say they want to avoid a strike.

"If you know we have to go on strike then we will," said union worker Karla Montano. "I really hope we don't. I really hope that the company can settle and give us a good agreement. I'm really hoping for that but if we don't then it's going to be really sad if we do."

The union will report the strike vote results to the dispute's federal mediator on Monday, and more talks will likely follow.

Union employees have been working without a contract since March 6 of this year. In April, union members took a similar strike-authorization vote. At that time it also passed with about 90 percent approval.

Ralphs released a statement Saturday: "Asking for a strike authorization is a common tactic in negotiations and does not necessarily mean a strike will be called by the union. Our employees want to keep working and our stores are ready to serve customers. Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons remain committed to reaching a contract that is good for our employees and keeps these union jobs sustainable for the future."

Vons released a statement after the vote: "This is the second time the unions have asked for strike authorization. The negotiations are ongoing and have not fully run their course. The employers intend to stay focused and engaged in the bargaining process. We remain hopeful that we can peacefully reach a settlement that works for both sides. We would urge the union leadership to do the same. The rhetoric around strike votes and harming the companies needlessly alarms and confuses our employees and customers. Likewise, it only distracts the parties from reaching a settlement."

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