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Grocery worker labor strike could happen next week

The United Food and Commercial Workers grocery employees' union has been in contract negotiations for the last six months with the grocery chains Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs, but the two sides don't seem to be getting any closer together. This weekend, the union will decide whether to go on strike. On Friday and Saturday, the votes will be counted, charting the next course of the dispute.

The last major strike occurred in 2003, when workers voted to strike. That strike was the largest in grocery store history and lasted four and a half months. The grocery stores would like to avoid an employee strike.

The 2003 strike cost the grocery chains customer loyalty and about $1 billion that instead was spent at competing grocery stores. Currently, the Southern California grocery chains of Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs are facing new competition from Target, which has added groceries to its offerings.

The grocery chain employers and the unions are locked in a dispute over matters involving contributions to health care plans and pensions. The unions argue that the health care changes are not acceptable because the new contributions would amount to about 50 percent of take-home pay for some of the employees. The two sides are also in disagreement over wages and over how many employees would be staffing a store.

Vons and Albertsons have begun hiring people who would cross picket lines and temporarily replace striking workers in case the strike happens. Ralphs is holding out so far on hiring replacement workers, and hoping that it will not come to that.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Grocery labor fight heats up, stores start hiring potential strike breakers," P.J. Huffstutter, Aug. 17, 2011