In a report in the Sacramento Bee, writer Dale Kasler said with the contract set to expire Wednesday between Raley's and the United Food and Commercial Workers, a "yes" vote would put the two sides on the brink of a walkout.
That doesn't mean a strike would necessarily happen, even if the contract isn't extended past Wednesday. The union's leadership would have to announce a strike before a walkout would occur, Kasler reported.
Bay Area employees, represented by UFCW Local 5, voted last month to authorize a strike. The vote was 96% in favor, the union said. Members of UFCW Local 8, covering much of the Central Valley, said in interviews Monday by Kasler that they're ready to follow suit.
"Nobody wins in a strike," Thomas Estrada, a veteran night-crew employee in Folsom, told the Bee, "but you've always got to stand up for your rights."
Estrada is an example of the traditional union supermarket employee, Kasler reported. He's worked 20 years at Raley's and earns the top pay of around $21 an hour plus benefits. With his wife also working, they've been able to buy a house and raise three kids.
These days, though, fewer people are making a career of grocery work. Pay and benefits are under pressure, and the union says perhaps 10% of its members work enough years to earn top pay.
According to the Bee report, Raley's and Northern California's other union grocers, Safeway and Save Mart, have been pressing for concessions since negotiations began last fall. The companies say they need lower labor costs to regain market share from nonunion rivals.
Raley's has been aggressive about pushing for givebacks -- and is closest to a strike. Neither of the other two companies has faced a strike vote yet. Local 8 called for the strike vote after Raley's declared negotiations were at an impasse. A strike would put thousands of employees on the street in a weak economy.
Raley's said it would hire replacement workers to keep as many stores open as possible during a strike. It also has suggested that union members resign from the UFCW and cross the picket lines.
But Kasler reported that the company would face formidable obstacles keeping the stores going. During Monday's voting, Teamsters Joint Council 7 parked a tractor-trailer emblazoned with the union logo in front of the Holiday Inn, signaling that drivers wouldn't cross picket lines to make deliveries to Raley's.
With Teamsters honoring the picket lines, Raley's wouldn't get deliveries of "all the essentials," including bread, dairy products, soft drinks and other goods.
In an appeal to workers on the eve of the vote, Raley's Chief Executive Michael Teel said the company is "fighting for survival" and would likely close more stores beyond the four already shuttered this year if a strike occurred. A strike "could prove fatal to our company," he added in a letter to workers.