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Grocery workers prepare to strike as union and employer's continue to negotiate

If a deal isn't reached by Easter, workers say they'll go on strike.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Will your local grocery store have a strike on its hands in a few weeks? 

That's the question people are asking as the owners of Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons grocery stores continue to negotiate with the unions that represent 47,000 grocery store workers across Southern California, including about 7,000 in San Diego County. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers union announced its members unanimously voted to move forward with a strike, if a deal isn't reached by Easter Sunday. 

Grocery store workers told CBS 8 they can't even afford the groceries they sell on their current wages. 

Store representatives we talked to say, they're trying to keep the cost of groceries down for all consumers.

"A lot of people are worried about the prices going up if we get a raise," said Davida Duenas, who works at Ralphs in Bonita. "The prices are going to go up no matter what." 

Duenas also shared that once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, grocery store workers became essential front line workers and now it’s time for their employers to appreciate their efforts. 

"The stores were packed. You couldn't get through walking and not bump into another person and they push you out of the way and yell at you every day,” said Duenas. "I ended up getting COVID at work and I brought it home to my three kids and my husband."

Maribel McKinze is a union organizer with the UFCW, she says grocery workers received COVID pay, however they're worth that and a lot more.  

That’s why McKinze says the UFCW is asking the owners of Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons for a $5 per hour wage hike, phased in over the next three years.

Along with bolstered safety standards and adequate scheduling and hours.

The grocery stores have offered annual 60-cent-per-hour wage increases over the next three years, totaling $1.80 included in their $141 million in new wages over three years, a $2 hourly wage increase for top rate associates and no increase in health care costs.

In a statement to CBS 8 March 30, Ralph’s vice president of Operations, Robert Branton said:

“Our three goals throughout negotiations are to reward and invest in our people, keep groceries affordable for our customers and maintain a sustainable business that creates jobs in the future. Ralphs’ proposal meets all three goals. The current UFCW proposal only meets one of those goals. We encourage the UFCW to join us in meaningful and balanced negotiations to promptly deliver wage increases to our associates.”

Randy Mills is a produce manager for Vons in San Diego. He says he was there the last time store workers went on strike. 

"Last time I did it for 6 months. I hope to God that doesn't happen again." said Duenas. "We don't want to. We don't want to strike but we're ready for it. If it comes to it, we'll get through it. We've been doing that for the past few years."

The last time grocery store workers went on strike in Southern California was 2003-2004. 

That strike lasted 141 days and analysts estimate that the strike cost stores as much as $2 billion, while workers lost about $300 million in wages.

The UFCW union helps members financially while on strike. Union members we spoke with all say they hope it doesn’t come to a strike at all but they're ready just in case.

WATCH RELATED: Grocery store negotiations continue as members make picket signs if a strike is called (March 2022)

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