Union members representing 62,000 Southern California Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons employees voted in favor of a strike on Aug. 20 after six months of contract negotiations.
“We don’t want to strike, last time it was terrible for everybody,” said Mike Shimpock, union spokesman. “It’s a terrible position to put everyone in, but if these markets won’t negotiate with us we don’t have much of a choice.”
Grocery store employees voted to pass the strike by 90 percent, well above the necessary 2/3 vote, but it does not mean a strike is imminent, said Kendra Doyle, spokeswoman for the grocery chains.
But if an agreement cannot be made to the satisfaction of both sides, in a timely manner, the unions will be forced for strike, Shimpock said.
The possible strike would affect more than 1,500 Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores stretching from Santa Maria to the Orange County border.
The contract between the grocery unions and the markets’ parent companies, Kroger, Safeway Inc., and Supervalu, expired on March 1.
Since then both sides have been struggling to reach an agreement on a new contract, and the most contested piece is an employee health care plan.
Union officials said the health care plan offered by employers will increase costs for the employees to as much as half of their take home pay.
Union and corporate representatives are working with a federal mediator in the hopes of striking an agreement, but employees could protest within the next week if there are no reassuring developments, said Mickey Kasparian, president of UCFW Local 135.
“We are all scared, the last time we went on strike, we lost a lot,” said Irene Gonzalez, union steward and Ralphs employee. “I don’t want to strike, but I am prepared to strike if I have to.”
In 2003, the region suffered one the longest employee strikes in history. The dispute lasted four months, the super markets lost over a billion dollars in revenue and the union members lost tens of millions in income.
Gonzales supports a family of six, including her disabled husband. The last strike financially devastated her family, forcing them to give up their home and move in with her parents.
“It’s extremely scary for us,” she said. “I hope that they keep on negotiating in good faith on both sides and come to an agreement.”
Jacob Holmes, a part-time Ralphs employee and CSUN student, said the atmosphere at his Granada Hills store is tense and anxious. Holmes is one of three family members who currently work for Ralphs.
Holmes doesn’t anticipate a strike, but if there is he hopes he can continue working and not be forced to join the picket lines as the result of a lockout.
Customers have been supportive of current grocery workers, claiming if there is a strike, they will shop elsewhere.
“I’m not too familiar with unions, but I know they do a lot of good,” said Ralphs customer Betty Hamer, 84, “I don’t like anybody striking, but we all have to make money so I support it.”