Shoppers could soon be confronted with empty shelves and long picket lines if workers with three local supermarkets walk off their jobs next week.

On Monday, a majority of 62,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal from Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons, which sought to increase the contributions made by workers to their health care benefits.

As a result of the impasse, workers — who have been without a contract since March — could walk off the job next week if negotiations fail.

Vons and Ralphs have three stores each in Pasadena. Ralphs also has a market in Altadena, and Albertsons has a store in Sierra Madre.

“We are accepting applications for temps,” said one employee at a Pasadena Vons who asked to not be named. “All Vons supermarkets are accepting them. We have voted to strike, but we don’t know when we will walk off yet. I hope it doesn’t go too long.”

Such jobs would be inviting to people struggling to make ends meet, with the unemployment rate in California topping 12 percent.

A local Ralphs employee told the Weekly that store is not yet accepting applications, but Albertsons is, according one worker at that store.

Workers last walked off their jobs in late 2003, staying out 141 days. During that strike, 70,000 workers picketed 900 stores costing the grocery stores $1.5 billion by the time the two sides came to an agreement.

Consumers were faced with empty shelves as truck drivers sided with the workers and refused to make deliveries.
“Our employees want to keep working, and our stores are ready to serve customers,” Kendra M. Doyel, group vice president for marketing for Ralphs, said in a prepared statement. “Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons remain committed to reaching a contract that is good for our employees and keeps these union jobs sustainable for the future.”