4 p.m. UPDATE: A Ralphs spokeswoman said the chain would close all its Southern California stores if grocery workers go on strike, according to an article on The San Diego Union-Tribune's website.
"If there is a strike, Ralphs will initially close all of our stores," said Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel, according to the article. "During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees."
Malibu residents who want to do local grocery shopping could soon be faced with a choice—cross picket lines at in Malibu Colony Plaza and in or shop at .
After months of negotiations, the grocery workers union on Thursday night moved a step closer to calling a strike and gave a three-day notice to cancel its contract, according to a statement from labor leaders.
Canceling the contract removes the final barrier to a strike. If a deal can't be reached by Sunday at 7 p.m., a strike could be called at any time.
The United Food and Commercial Workers represents 62,000 grocery store employees, including those who work at Ralphs and Pavilions. Management and labor leaders have been at the bargaining table trying to reach a deal on a new contract for eight months.
The two sides have been operating under the terms of a contract that was extended after it expired in March.
"We're ready to fight to preserve good jobs," union leaders said in a statement. "We understand this is a tough economy, but we're willing to stand up for workers everywhere being taken advantage of by profitable corporations. It is unfair and wrong for these corporations doing so well to use the economy as an excuse to squeeze those working paycheck to paycheck."
Vons, which like Pavilions is owned by Safeway Inc., released a statement in response to the action:
We are disappointed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals' decision to give the employers 72 hour notice of the cancellation of the contract extension. Doing so needlessly alarms our employees and our customers.
The notice does not mean a strike is imminent or that a strike will necessarily occur at any point. The notice simply allows the union the ability to call a strike if they choose to do so. Vons and the other employers intend to remain focused on the negotiation process and urge the unions to do so the same.
Union negotiators want the stores to pay the same share of their health care benefits as in the past, but their opponents want the employees to pay up to 80 percent of the costs, said Mickey Kasparian, the UFCW head in San Diego.
He said in June that the issue was the same as the one that prompted a 141-day strike in 2003-04.
Hoa Quach and City News Service contributed to this report.