Ralphs says its stores will close if strike occurs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Grocery store chains are laying plans in the event grocery workers decide to go on strike over stalled contract negotiations on Sunday night — Ralphs will close, Albertsons may and Vons intends to stay open.

“If there is a strike, Ralphs will initially close all of our stores,” said spokeswoman Kendra Doyel in a statement. “During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees.”

Albertsons spokeswoman Christie Ly said in a statement that up to 100 Albertsons stores could close for some or all of the strike.

“One of the lessons we learned during the 2003-04 labor dispute is that it doesn’t make good business sense to try to operate all our stores during a strike,” said Ly.

Officials at the Vons grocery chain have said they intend to remain open if a strike is called.

The strike would come in response to inaction on health care benefits during an eight-month contract negotiation, the workers’ union said. Southern California grocery workers issued a 72-hour notice Thursday night to cancel a contract extension and pave the way for a strike, said Rick Icaza, president of Grocery Workers Union Local 770.

A strike isn’t guaranteed for workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons, but cancelling the contract removed the final barrier to a strike. A strike would affect 62,000 Southern California workers in the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Doyel has said her company currently pays more than 90 percent of health coverage costs. Ralphs workers hired before 2004 pay nothing toward their premiums and those hired later pay either $7 a week for single coverage or $15 a week for family coverage.

A four-month strike and lockout that began in 2003 cost Ralphs and other grocery chains an estimated $2 billion.

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