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Possible strikes loom for supermarket employers

Thousands of union grocery workers throughout Southern California are threatening to walk off the job indefinitely until a new and more favorable health care proposal is put on the table by three major grocery store chains.

Rejecting the most recent health care proposal offered by stores Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs, union employees authorized through a vote last weekend to strike. Negotiations are still ongoing this week, but the workers now could go on strike at any time after giving 72 hours of notice to the companies.

The health care proposal has found favor with essentially none of the union workers, 90 percent of whom voted the latest contract offer down. While both sides stress they would like to avoid a strike, Albertsons and Vons are preparing for the worst by screening prospective employees to fill in for striking workers.

Union employees at these companies went through with a similar strike at the tail end of 2003 and into 2004, lasting 141 days and costing the companies an estimated $1.5 billion. The companies brought it to an end by preserving wages, health care benefits and pensions for workers.

With the threat of a strike looming, many customers admit that it would likely not change their shopping habits and they would still cross the picket lines to shop in those stores.

However, with so many other megastores starting to offer grocery goods, like Target, customers now have a myriad of options should things go sour at the traditional stores. With these other stores as options, a strike would hurt both the cause of the workers and of the stores.

While union workers take a similar hit to their personal finances during a strike, members said that is a sacrifice they're willing to make in order to preserve the health care benefits they deserve.

Source: The Orange County Register, "More talks likely in grocery labor dispute," Nancy Luna, Hang Nguyen and Doug Irving, Aug. 22, 2011