Thousands of Southern California grocery workers have voted overwhelmingly to reject a health care proposal from major supermarket chains and authorize their union leaders to call a strike, a spokesman said early Sunday.
More than 90 percent of voters from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, which has about 62,000 members, rejected the proposal from Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores.
The rejection automatically authorizes union officials to call a strike after 72 hours
Shimpock did not have precise numbers on how many voted, but said the turnout was "huge."
The union will report the results to the dispute's federal mediator on Monday and that more talks would likely follow.
"We're willing to come back to the table and stay there," Shimpock said. "Our goal here is not to go on strike, we don't want to go on strike, but unfortunately we've been pushed into a corner by these corporations."
A four-month strike and lockout that began in 2003 cost Ralphs and other grocery chains an estimated $2 billion.
Messages left for grocery store representatives were not immediately returned, but Ralphs Grocery Co. spokeswoman Kendra Doyel previously told The Associated Press that her chain is committed to staying at the table to negotiate, and the grocers' proposal was affordable and good for employees and their families.
Union members have been working without a contract since March.
Both sides announced last month that they had reached a tentative agreement on the employers' contributions to pension benefits, but health care costs have been a major sticking point.
Ralphs currently pays more than 90 percent of employee health coverage costs, Doyel said. Workers hired before 2004 pay nothing for health insurance while those hired later pay either $7 a week for single coverage or $15 a week for family coverage.
The companies' proposal would raise that to $9 a week for singles and $23 a week for families. That is much lower than the average cost of health care insurance in California, she said.