The union representing grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons stressed during a rally Monday that they don't want to go on strike, but they will if they believe they have to in order to get a fair contract, City News Service reported.
Over the weekend, 90 percent of the 62,000 grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 voted to authorize a strike against the supermarket chains, all three of which have at least one location in Redondo Beach.
"Our members overwhelmingly authorized a strike because they want a fair contract, not a walkout," said union president Rick Icaza on Sunday.
"I voted for this strike," said Tom Hancock, a worker at Pavilions, which is affiliated with Vons. "I didn't want to. I went through the last strike, but they've left us no choice. So I'm happy that over 90 percent of us voted for the strike."
Nevertheless, Hancock called the 2003-2004 strike "extremely tough."
"It'll be tough in the short run now, too," he said.
The current offer calls for workers to pay about $36 per month for individual health insurance or $92 per month for family coverage; however, the union wants the supermarket chains to pay more money into a health-care trust fund for the workers.
Union spokesman Mike Shimpock previously said that payments to the trust fund have decreased over the past decade, and if the employers don't add more money, the fund will go bankrupt within 16 months.
"We don't want another strike, but we need to protect our health benefits for ourselves and our families," said Ralphs employee Mario Frias.
The two sides have reached an agreement on pensions; however, not even a tentative agreement on wages has been reached.
Negotiations between the two sides will resume Aug. 29 with the help of a federal mediator.
"We're hoping that the mediator will bring both sides together," said union spokeswoman Ellen Anreder. "That's our No. 1 priority."
UFCW Local 135 President Mickey Kasparian said the mediator would continue to work toward a resolution, but the union could call a strike less than a week after negotiations resume if there are no positive developments.
"If we don't get a deal, we'll take this fight to the streets," Kasparian told City News Service.
In a statement, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons called the strike-authorization vote "a common tactic in negotiations" and stressed that it didn't necessarily mean a strike would be called.
"What we want them to do is return to the table so we can get a contract, a good contract," said Albertsons spokesman Fred Muir. "But should they decide to strike, we have made contingency plans and the stores will be open."
"Nobody wins in a strike, " Muir said. "We don't want a strike."
Nevertheless, Muir said Albertsons posted signs at its stores last week advertising for temporary replacement workers.
In a written statement Sunday, Vons stressed that negotiations were ongoing.
"The employers intend to stay focused and engaged in the bargaining process," the Vons release said. "We remain hopeful that we can peacefully reach a settlement that works for both sides. We would urge the union leadership to do the same."
The 2003-2004 strike and lockout, which lasted 141 days, cost the chains an estimated $1.5 billion and wiped out the savings of most workers. It also caused some customers to change their shopping habits by patronizing independent grocers and specialty outlets like and .
and City News Service contributed to this report.