Southern Calif grocery workers pave way for strike

September 16, 2011 - 3:10 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Grocery workers could go on strike as soon as Sunday night in response to inaction on health care benefits, the workers' union said Thursday.

Eight months into contract negotiations, Southern California grocery workers issued a 72-hour notice Thursday night to cancel a contract extension and pave the way for a strike, said Rick Icaza, president of Grocery Workers Union Local 770.

A strike isn't guaranteed for workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons, but cancelling the contract removes the final barrier to a strike.

In separate statements Thursday, all three grocers said they were disappointed in the union's move and they will remain in active negotiations.

"We don't want a strike, and we hope to continue bargaining rather than continue to alarm our associates and our customers," said Albertsons spokeswoman Christie Ly.

Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel said her company remains committed to reaching an agreement.

Vons spokesman Brian Dowling urged the union to remain focused on the negotiation process, while pledging to do the same.

Contract negotiations are stalled because supermarkets are unwilling to compromise on health care contributions for 62,000 grocery workers, Icaza said.

Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel has said her company currently pays more than 90 percent of health coverage costs. Ralphs workers hired before 2004 pay nothing toward their premiums and those hired later pay either $7 a week for single coverage or $15 a week for family coverage.

A four-month strike and lockout that began in 2003 cost Ralphs and other grocery chains an estimated $2 billion.