Grocery workers at 12 Long Beach-area stores, along with tens of thousands more across the region, could go on strike in the coming weeks due to failed contract negotiations, union leaders announced today.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union locals 8GS, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442 represent more than 60,000 workers at Albertsons, Gelson’s, Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Bros. and Vons stores across Southern California.  Local 324 represents about 1,000 workers in Long Beach.

“In the beginning of the pandemic we were right there with customers face-to-face,” Local 324 member Erlene Molina, a manager at Ralphs, said in a statement Monday. “We knew that we had an obligation to our community, so we showed up every day. We knew how essential we were. We took on a whole new meaning.”

Negotiations ended Sunday after a six-day bargaining session, according to union and grocery leaders. The previous contract ended Sunday at 11:59 p.m.

All seven UFCW Locals will meet with Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions to discuss their joint pharmacist contract next week. But no new bargaining dates have been set for the grocery worker contract.

Union members are expected to vote on whether or not to strike in the coming weeks.

Union leaders claim the negotiations failed because Kroger—parent company of Ralphs—along with Albertsons, Pavilions and Vons offered workers a 60-cent raise, which ignores the impact of inflation on workers. Members held demonstrations throughout the week of Feb. 28 at stores across the region.

Kroger, for its part, said the grocery giant already pays the highest wages in the industry and that its proposal shows its willingness to put more money in the hands of workers.

“Our offer continues to provide industry leading wages and healthcare benefits at zero additional cost to associates over the next three years,” Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs, said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that substantial progress toward reaching an agreement was not made.”

Ralphs stores remain open and staffed, the company stated.

Albertsons, which is the parent company of Vons and Pavilions, stated it is committed to coming to an agreement with the unions.

“Our goal with every negotiation is to provide our employees with a competitive total compensation package of wages, health, welfare, and pension benefits,” Albertsons spokeswoman Melissa Hill said in an email to the Business Journal. “We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, good for our customers, and allows Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market.”

Kroger stated its area employees make $25 per hour, which includes more than $18.90 base pay, health benefits and pension. But the labor union says the 60-cent raise to the hourly wage is “shockingly low” when compared to the massive profits reported by grocery companies over the last two years.

In  2020, Kroger reported $4.1 billion in operating profits, up from $3 billion in 2019, according to financial reports. The firm was on track to top 2020 profits last year, but end-of-year data is not yet available.

“We are shocked at [Kroger and Albertsons’] failure to negotiate a fair contract that reflects the value and sacrifices our members have made, despite profiting immensely from that very sacrifice,” the union chapters said in a joint statement. “Even after hearing directly from workers how overexposed, overworked, understaffed, and underpaid they are, these grocery corporations ultimately chose to ignore their workers.”

Kroger’s Ralphs division said Monday it remains open to meeting with union leaders with the goal of increasing wages, keeping groceries affordable for customers and maintaining a sustainable business model.

All seven UFCW locals have filed unfair labor practice charges against Kroger and Albertsons for “undermining negotiations and workers’ right to representation” by offering employees bonuses that were not part of any bargaining proposals, the unions said Monday. Additionally, Albertsons has allegedly conducted “unlawful surveillance of workers protesting low wages and short hours, trying to prevent those employees from getting their message out to the public.”

“Negotiations are a process and we’re committed to reaching an agreement no matter how long it takes,” Branton stated. “We are hopeful the union will return to the bargaining table with renewed interest in reaching a balanced agreement.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from Albertsons and to amend accusations by the union, which have been revised in a corrected press release.