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LOS ANGELES -- Members of the United Food & Commercial Workers in Southern California overwhelmingly voted over the weekend to give the union the authority to strike if talks fail with the Ralph's unit of Kroger Co., the Vons and Pavilions units of Safeway, Inc., and the Albertsons unit of Supervalu, Inc.
At issue are benefits and wages, and a two-tiered system created by the chains.
While Albertsons employees already had given the union clearance to authorize a strike in March, workers at the Ralphs and Vons chains ordered the strike on Sunday and rejected a partial contract offer on pay and health coverage. Albertsons workers were only asked about the contract proposal.
The union, which represents about 65,000 workers, called the vote after negotiations failed by the union-imposed Thursday deadline. The authorization does not mean a strike is imminent.
For their part, the grocery chains criticized the decision to hold a vote on an incomplete proposal as premature, and said the union is walking away from negotiations.
"If union leaders were honest with our employees, they'd tell them we're making progress on the core issues of wages, pensions, and health care eligibility and are scheduled to continue those discussions next week," Michael Bustamante, a consultant for Ralphs, said in a statement.
The union argues, however, that the supermarkets have been dragging out the negotiations, which began in January.