Employees of Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons grocery stores will vote next week to decide if they are willing to strike should negotiations between the workers’ union and the companies remain unsettled.
A majority vote is needed to authorize a strike, but it does not automatically trigger one.
The authorization vote, requested by the United Food and Commercial Workers 770, which represents grocery workers in Southern California, will be used as a bargaining chip by the union. There are no immediate plans to strike, said Mike Shimpock, spokesman for the grocery workers union.
“The feeling is that no one really wants to strike,” said Shimpock, adding that such a vote is increasingly common during negotiations. “There hasn’t been a major contract negotiated without a strike vote being taken — it is a measure of our resolve.”
Fred Muir, a spokesman for Albertsons, which has five stores in San Luis Obispo County, said that progress continues to be made during negotiations.
“We think that any talk of a strike or even the threat of one is premature and unnecessary while both sides are actively negotiating,” he said.
The debated contract covers about 60,000 workers from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border.
The existing agreement from 2007 expired on March 6 and is being extended day by day, but it can be canceled by either side with 72-hours notice.
Polls where workers can cast their ballots will be set up throughout Southern California on Wednesday, with local polling at the Paso Robles Event Center.
Albertsons spokesman Muir said the two sides have reached tentative agreements on several issues.
“That’s a good sign, and we think everyone’s interests are best served by staying at the negotiating table and focused on achieving a fair and reasonable contract,” he said. Shimpock said that while talks are ongoing, progress is not.
Neither side would disclose exactly what is being offered and what is being requested.
In October 2003, thousands of grocery workers began a strike that lasted more than four months — one of the longest grocery store labor disputes in Southern California history. It included 18 stores and about 2,000 employees in San Luis Obispo County. The companies wanted workers to pay for health care for the first time. A two-tiered wage scale and pension were also at issue.