The possibility of another grocery strike affecting Southern California shoppers is looming Wednesday, with unionized workers voting in favor of a walkout if a labor deal isn't reached.
Officials with United Food and Commercial Workers said there are no immediate plans to strike, but it now has the backing of its nearly 50,000-person membership to call for a walkout.
"We don't want to strike. We understand the impact on consumers, our communities and our members," according to Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770. "But the out-of-state corporations and hedge funds controlling the stores may leave us no choice. Despite profits of over a half-billion dollars, they are still demanding our workers give up retirement and health care security and forego raises for two years. That's not fair, and it's not right."
The union's contract with Kroger -- owner of Ralphs -- and Cerberus Capital -- owner of Albertsons, including Vons, Pavilions and Safeway -- expired in March.
Grocery workers cast ballots in the strike-authorization vote on Monday.
Ralphs officials said earlier the company is hopeful of achieving a labor deal.
"Ralphs is committed to reaching an agreement with union leadership at the one place an agreement can be reached -- the bargaining table," according to a statement from the company. "A strike authorization vote is premature and only serves to cause concern for associates and customers.
"We encourage union leadership to return to the table on our agreed-upon upcoming dates and work out an agreement that is good for our associates and allows us to remain competitive in the market."
Although the state has already approved a law that will increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022, union officials say the salary increases being offered by the grocery chains -- 10 cents an hour in each of the next three years -- are too small. The union also contends the stores are trying to increase benefit costs for employees.
The labor dispute raises fears of a repeat of the 2003-04 Southland grocery strike that dragged on for 141 days. That work stoppage was estimated by some analysts to have cost the supermarket chains as much as $2 billion, with locked-out workers losing $300 million in wages.