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The Associated Press May 30, 2012, 8:45PM ET

Calif. grocery chain workers move closer to strike

Workers at one of Northern California's largest supermarket chains are moving closer to a possible strike after the supermarket declared an impasse in talks over a new contract.

Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents the majority of Raley's supermarkets' 7,750 unionized workers, has already authorized a strike. Local 8 of the Food and Commercial Workers union plans to hold a strike authorization vote soon.

Officials at Local 8 said they decided to seek the vote after Raley's declared an impasse Friday following months of talks over a new contract.

The impasse declaration allows Raley's to implement a final offer after the existing contract for some workers expires June 6, forcing the union to accept the deal or strike.

Raley's is seeking cuts in health care benefits and premium pay and wants to eliminate health care for retirees, according to union officials.

Union officials said the impasse declaration caught them by surprise and indicates Raley's desire to force the benefit and wage cuts on their members.

"Once again, they are taking an erratic and reckless position and, unfortunately, this leaves us with no choice but to move forward with a strike vote," Jacques Loveall, Local 8 president, said in a statement to union members.

Raley's spokesman John Segale said the two sides were in a stalemate after union officials refused to recognize the company's financial challenges and proposed changes that would increase operating costs.

Raley's says it needs to cut costs in the face of a weak economy and competition from nonunionized companies that sell groceries, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Raley's has recently closed some stores and laid off workers.

"Rather than work towards an agreement that is fair to employees and Raley's, union leaders came back with a new proposal for wage increases and bonuses that they know we simply cannot afford at this time," Segale said.

Average compensation, including health and pension benefits, for Raley's workers is $27.50 per hour, Segale said. The hourly wage rate is between $12.95 and $21.13.

West Sacramento-based Raley's is a privately owned company that operates 131 stores in Northern California and northern Nevada under the names Raley's, Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source.

The current contract negotiations affect workers at Raley's, Bel Air Markets and Nob Hill Foods.

Segale said the company has contingency plans to keep its stores open in case of a strike.

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