Grocery workers union votes to strike during labor talks

- Unionized grocery workers across Southern California will cast ballots Monday in a strike-authorization vote as labor negotiations drag.

Thousands of members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 will cast ballots throughout the day. If the workers vote in favor, it does not necessarily mean a strike will be held, only that the union's leaders have the backing of members to call for a walkout if a deal can't be reached.

Voting is expected to begin at 8 a.m. and continue to 8 p.m. The union represents workers for Ralphs and Albertsons -- including Vons, Pavilions and Safeway.

Ralphs officials said 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 the benefit costs for employees.

"The companies' wage offer is insulting and their benefit proposal would drastically increase employee  health care costs and decimate our pension plan," according to a union update recently sent to members.

Union President Rick Icaza told the Los Angeles Times the companies are trying to offset the cost of the state's minimum-wage hike by making cuts elsewhere.

"This package disregards the needs of our members, ignores the growing cost of living in Southern California and fails to give employees any credit for the companies' record profits," according to the union.

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