COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - Thousands of Southern California grocery store workers cast votes on whether or not to strike Monday and Tuesday, including those who work at Albertsons, Vons, and Ralphs grocery stores in the valley.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents the workers, said it would like to reach an agreement during its next stage of negoations with the grocery store corporations, but has made it clear the threat of a strike is real.
Valley supermarket employees said they're most worried about pay, pensions and benefits.
"Our future for retirement is jeopardized," said Janet Moore, a Ralphs employee who has worked with the company since 1977.
"It's mostly health insurance for our family and it went extremely high," said Alicia Parker, a Ralph's employee of more than 30 years.
UFCW held a meeting in Palm Desert Tuesday to discuss the terms of a contract proposal, where representatives urged workers to vote to reject the terms and authorize a strike.
"Unfortunately we've met with the company 17 times and we've gotten very little movement," said Matt Bruno, a regional secretary treasurer with UFCW. "Every contract, it seems like this is what we have to do to get where we need to be."
One worker who didn't want to be identified said he's standing up for what he believes he deserves.
"We are their frontmen we are the people that make the store work," he said. "It's our performance and our dedication that makes their money."
"We're all getting together to fight and we're going to win," Parker said.
This isn't the first time grocery store workers have organized a strike -- one in 2003 lasted four months, costing the industry more than $1.5 billion.
In a statement, a representative from Albertsons and Vons said,
"We are committed to working collaboratively with the unions to ensure that we reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, good for our customers and allows Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market. We feel the strike authorization vote is premature and will cause our employees and customers undue concern; nevertheless, we will be back at the bargaining table on July 10th and hope to reach an agreement soon."
And workers said they don't want a repeat of the past.
"I dont want to be striking," Moore said. "It put a damper on everybody financially."
But some said that's what they're prepared to do.
"I think if that's what we need to do, we have to stand up for our rights," said Susan Paul, an Albertsons employee.
If the vote passes, grocery store workesr won't necessarily start striking next week. There's another round of negotiations set for two weeks from now that they're hoping will go well. But they also hope this move shows the companies that they mean business.
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