H-CENTRAL COAST

Aug 17, 2011 10:05 PM by Ariel Wesler

Local grocery workers could strike next week

You could soon see some new faces behind the counters at your local Vons, Albertsons, and Ralphs grocery stores. Union workers will vote this weekend whether to go on strike.

Contract negotiations between the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the companies have been ongoing since February. The UFCW represents more than 62,000 employees. If a strike happens, it would affect grocery stores in California from Paso Robles to San Diego.

Both sides have been at the bargaining table more than 50 times since February, but the sticking point is healthcare benefits. The union says negotiations have dragged on long enough and stores are preparing for a possible walk out.

Local grocery stores are looking for temporary employees in case workers vote to strike. Despite being unemployed, Laudie Schramm wasn't sure he'd apply.

"I know a lot of people in there so it's kind of hard to take their jobs," he said.

Some shoppers feel asking for more in a down economy just isn't right.

"You should probably be thankful you have a job," said Mark Ashamalla of Lompoc.

"I do think they should be thankful that they have a job, but they should also fight for what they believe in and what they deserve," said Melinda Johnson, a former Ralphs employee.

She was on the picket lines in 2003.

"It was hard seeing people still go in there and shop knowing that we're fighting for our benefits," she said.

Union representatives say employees are being asked to pay higher health care premiums, including a $2,000 deductible while companies bring in billions in profits. Still, supermarkets say they too are battling rising healthcare costs.

"Even under our proposal, the grocers would pay substantially more money," said Albertsons Spokesman Fred Muir.

While the strike would mean more temporary jobs, shoppers are going to have to decide whether they're willing to cross the picket lines.

"We won't cross the picket line. Plus, in Nipomo, I know everybody in there too. I don't want them to get angry at me," said Jack Holmes of Nipomo.

"I still have to feed my family and the grocery stores are where we get our food," Ashamalla said.

Workers will vote on Friday and Saturday. If the strike is authorized, they could walk three days later.

If you'd like to apply for a job with any of three grocery chains, just stop by your local store and ask for an application.

The previous four-month strike and lockout that began in 2003 cost the store chains an estimated $2 billion.

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