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Economy

Southern California Grocery Workers Inch Closer To A Strike

Sign On Door Of Albertson's Store in Santee.  The Signs Are Up At All Alberston's Stores in Southern California.
Erik Anderson
Sign On Door Of Albertson's Store in Santee. The Signs Are Up At All Alberston's Stores in Southern California.
Southern California Grocery Workers Inch Closer To A Strike
60,000 Southern California Grocery workers are inching closer to a work stoppage. Union members in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside County are taking strike authorization votes Friday and Saturday.

Union workers at Vons, Ralph's and Albertsons already voted to approve a strike back in April. That was a month after the old contract expired. Six months later negotiations are dragging on, so the union's called for another strike vote.

Union negotiators said the stores won't fully fund the health care packages they're offering in the new contract. That's moving workers closer to a strike.

"We're talking about a very short period of time," said Mickey Kasparian, president the United Food and Commercial Worker's Union Local 135. "And we're still hopeful we can get a deal, make no mistake about that, but I think the chances of that are dwindling right now."

Union officials are asking members to vote for a walkout at the region's three largest grocery store chains. The stores are already bracing for the possibility of a work stoppage.

"We've got an obligation to our customers," said Fred Muir, a spokesman for Alberstons. "We've got to keep the stores open and functioning because they depend on us. So yes, we have posted signs in all of the Albertsons stores saying we are taking applications for temporary replacement workers."

The last strike and lockout lasted months and cost the stores market share and billions of dollars in revenues. Union workers also agreed to lower pay for new workers and to take on a bigger share of health care costs. The dispute is a familiar one to both sides.

"Mainly it's the issue of escalating health care costs, and the supermarket industry's attempt to shift those costs directly to the workers," said Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center.

The stores and Union have agreed to hold at least one more negotiating session after Friday's and Saturday's strike vote. If a strike is authorized, the union has to give the chains 72 hours notice before setting up picket lines.