WEST SACRAMENTO -- 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 announcement by union leaders came a few hours after a midnight deadline passed and both sides said the existing labor contract was being extended on an hour-by-hour basis at the request of a federal mediator.
The union said in a statement that "by late on Saturday evening it had become obvious Raley's offer to extend the contract for an additional three days and return to the bargaining table" was a delaying tactic. Picket lines will begin early Sunday, said Ellen Anreder, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Ralye's spokesman John Segale said that "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."
He said the chain has "plans in place to deal with any job actions to keep our stores open and operating to meet the needs of our customers."
On Saturday, the two sides held a third day of bargaining aimed at heading off the first strike in Raley's 77-year history.
The grocer has 128 stores in Northern California and Nevada.
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 has tried to dictate a laundry list of takeaways including devastating members' and retirees' health and welfare plan and nothing has changed. It's clear from their actions it's time to teach them the meaning of respect," the union statement said.
Raley's management had threatened to impose a contract with its terms on Thursday, but when a federal mediator became involved in the talks, the company said it would hold off until midnight Saturday.
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.
Union officials say the chain has not agreed to a full audit of its finances, failing to make the case for the concessions
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.