Union workers at Raley's supermarket chain, which operates more than 100 stores in California and Nevada, went on strike Sunday after last-ditch efforts to reach a new contract failed.
The strike, which marked the first against Raley's in its 77-year-history, came after all-day talks Saturday. A midnight deadline was extended at the request of a federal mediator, but talks broke down around 2 a.m. Sunday, said Mike Henneberry, a United Food and Commercial Workers Union spokesman.
"The company's position is fairly breathtaking. They really haven't changed much of any of their positions in the 15 months that we've been in talks," Henneberry said.
Union workers were staffing picket lines outside most of the chain's stores by 6 a.m. Sunday, he said.
Raley's spokesman John Segale said that despite the strike and the picket lines all of the company's stores were open Sunday as usual.
"It is unfortunate that after 15 months of talks and nearly 60 negotiation sessions, we were not able to agree on a new contract since it is clearly understood that we must reduce our operating costs to become more competitive against non-union retailers" Segale said.
The two sides have been at odds over a proposed wage freeze, elimination of premium pay for Sunday shifts and health care benefits.
Raley's says it needs to cut costs in the face of a weak economy and competition from nonunionized companies that also sell groceries, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
"We are under some fierce competition and we must reduce our costs to allow us to compete in the future," Segale said.
But union officials say the chain has not agreed to a full audit of its finances, and has been bargaining in bad faith since contract negotiations began.
"They have decided what their position is and they're not going to change that," Henneberry said.
West Sacramento-based Raley's is a privately owned company that employs 13,000 people at 115 stores in California and 13 in Nevada operating under the Raley's name, as well as Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods, Food Source and Aisle 1 Fuel Stations, according to its website.
The United Food and Commercial Workers says it represents 7,400 of the chain's employees.