Around 48,000 grocery workers voted to strike if needed when seeking higher wages from stores owned by Kroger Co and Albertsons Companies Inc in South California, the UFCW 770 union said on Saturday.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has been seeking significantly higher and equal pay, sufficient staffing and enough working hours in their negotiations with the grocers, which began on Jan. 28.
As food prices rise in the United States, workers are pushing big corporations that have been posting record profits to offer more.
Politicians, including President Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, too have voiced their support and urged companies to share a bigger portion of their profits.
The union said in a statement that it will notify workers if a decision is made to strike.
It said there was a big disconnect between its proposal and an hourly raise of 60 cents or less than a 1% increase offered by the grocers, including Ralphs, Albertsons, Pavilions and Vons.
Kroger-owned Ralphs called the union’s proposal unrealistic as it is expensive to do business in California, while proposing to maintain its nearly $133 million investment in health care benefits annually.
The grocer, which has around 190 stores in California, said it might have to start making contingency plans, including advertising for temporary workers, to keep its business running.
As the previous workers’ contract expired on March 6, the labor union has slapped unfair labor practice charges against the grocers. They include allegations of attempts to influence members by providing gifts and outsourcing jobs.
The union said bargaining with the grocers will resume on Wednesday and if talks fail, it would decide on the next steps.
Ralphs also said on Monday it was hopeful the union would return to the bargaining table with renewed interest in reaching a balanced deal.
Albertsons did not respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam and Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Christopher Cushing)