Grocery store workers cast ballots on strike authorization


About 62,000 unionized grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons have been working without a contract for six months now. They will be voting on Friday and Saturday.

"We just want to meet and compromise in the middle and cut a fair deal. Unfortunately, the employers have been dragging their heels on this," said Mike Shimpock of UFCW Local 770. "We don't want a strike, but we really don't have any choice but to protect our jobs here."

The issue is health care and benefits. The supermarkets and employees pay into a trust fund to pay for health care. The union says they are willing to pay their fair share into the fund, and they want supermarkets to catch up and pay their fair share or pay more into the fund.

The grocery store chains insist the latest proposal would maintain most health care expenses at their current levels, but the union says workers would be forced to spend almost half of their salaries to cover health care costs under the latest plan.

Vons and Albertsons have begun taking applications for temporary employees, but Ralphs says it is not in anticipation of a strike.

"We want to avoid a strike. The best thing for everyone is to stay at the table, continue negotiating," said Ralphs spokesman Kendra Doyel. "Should something change, we have a plan in place to make sure we can take care of everyone going forward, but we certainly hope that doesn't happen."

Albertsons and Ralphs workers went on strike for 141 days in 2003, costing stores an estimated $1 billion.

Depending on the outcome of this vote, a strike could happen as early as next week. Results of the vote should be out by Sunday.

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