Grocery workers give stores the 72-hour warning - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Grocery workers give stores the 72-hour warning

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SAN DIEGO (CNS / CBS 8) - San Diego grocery workers for Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons stores could go on strike as early as Sunday evening.

The union that represents Southern California grocery workers on Thursday gave the grocery chains a notice of its intention to cancel the current contract extension in 72 hours, possibly paving the way for a strike.

If there is a strike, Ralphs announced late Friday afternoon they will temporarily close all of their stores - 25 of which are in San Diego. Ralphs says it's difficult to provide a good shopping experience for customers during a strike, so initially they'll close their doors.

According to the union, grocery workers will begin final strike preparations after the deadline expires, massing at local union headquarters to assemble signs, stockpiling food for strikers and their families, and continuing picket training.

The notice does not mean workers will definitely walk out Sunday evening but it removed the final barrier to a strike, allowing the union to call one.

The walkout could be delayed or averted if the two sides can agree on company contributions to a health care benefits fund for employees.

"We returned to the bargaining table ready to compromise and make a deal that keeps our employers profitable but protects the jobs of our members," said a statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons.

"Instead, we got more of the same stonewalling from management. They are unwilling to compromise and are more concerned about hoarding their billions in profits than reaching a fair deal for their employees. We don't want to strike, but if they won't negotiate, we have no choice."

The grocery store chains released statements in response to the 72-hour cancellation notice, expressing their disappointment.

Canceling the contract extension "needlessly alarms our employees and our customers," the Vons statement said. "The notice does not mean a strike is imminent or that a strike will necessarily occur at any point. The notice simply allows the union the ability to call a strike if they choose to do so."

Albertsons and Vons have already been advertising for temporary workers.

The union and grocery store chains have been in negotiations for months.

Some 62,000 union workers -- including 10,000 in San Diego County -- have been without a contract renewal since March. A 141-day strike in 2003-04, which cost the stores an estimated $1.5 billion, led some customers to make long-term changes to their shopping habits by going to independent grocers and specialty outlets. Both sides in the current dispute agreed that they were hurt by the last strike.

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