Southern Calif grocery workers pave way for strike

By the Associated Press | September 15, 2011 | 11:40 PM EDT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California grocery workers say they're fed up with inaction in their eight-month contract negotiations and are moving closer to a strike.

The union issued a 72-hour notice Thursday to cancel a contract extension and pave the way for a strike, said Rick Icaza, president of Grocery Workers Union Local 770.

A strike isn't guaranteed for workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons, but cancelling the contract removes the final barrier to a strike.

In a statement, Albertsons spokeswoman Christie Ly said the grocer is disappointed in the union's move and remains in active negotiations with the union.

"We don't want a strike, and we hope to continue bargaining rather than continue to alarm our associates and our customers," Ly said in a statement.

After-hours calls and emails to other major grocers Thursday night were not immediately returned.

Contract negotiations are stalled because supermarkets are unwilling to compromise on health care contributions for 62,000 grocery workers, Icaza said.

Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel has said her company currently pays more than 90 percent of health coverage costs. Ralphs workers hired before 2004 pay nothing toward their premiums and those hired later pay either $7 a week for single coverage or $15 a week for family coverage.

A four-month strike and lockout that began in 2003 cost Ralphs and other grocery chains an estimated $2 billion.