Grocery store workers in Southern California were gearing up Saturday to go on strike, as negotiations continued to avert a walkout or lockout of 62,000 employees of the three major supermarket chains.
“We're in negotiations today,” said Todd Conger, a spokesman for the Orange County of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Workers from Santa Maria south to the Mexican border could walk off the job as early as 7:10 p.m. Sunday.
“As of this morning, no other progress had been made and plans for a strike were continuing in all the union locals,” Conger said. Strike captains were meeting today to organize picketing, he said.
The companies were still advertising today for temporary workers in case of a job action. A similar effort in 2003-2004 resulted in the stores staying open, but all the replacement workers were fired once the new union contract was signed.
All Ralphs stores and as many as 100 Albertsons would close in the event of a strike, while Vons would stay open, store representatives said Friday. On Thursday, the union issued a required 72-hour notice that its workers could go on strike.
If workers strike, Ralphs stores would be gradually reopened on a case-by-case basis, said Kendra Doyel, Ralphs vice president of public relations. Albertsons said it was not necessarily in its best interest to stay open.
“One of the lessons we learned during the 2003-2004 labor dispute is that it doesn't make good business sense to try to operate all our stores during a strike,” an executive said in a statement issued Friday.
That 141-day lockout, during which all three chains stayed open, cost the stores an estimated $1.5 billion.
Members of UFCW had been working without a contract since March 6. The companies say they are offering a reasonable health package that would cost $92 per month per family, but the unions say the profitable companies will not pay a fair share of insurance costs.