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Unionized employees at California supermarket retailer Raley's went on strike yesterday, after more than a year of negotiations, the first time that the company has faced a strike after some 77 years in business.

Raley's has continued to object to the fact that its unionized employees have not had the opportunity to vote on its last contract offer.

"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" said Raley's spokesman John Segale, who noted that all the company's 100 stores were open and operating as usual.

"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," responded Mike Henneberry, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Last week, Raley's announced that it was unilaterally imposing the terms of what it called its final and best contract offer on its employees - including a two-year wage freeze, the elimination of extra pay for Sunday hours, and a reduction in bonus pay for holiday shifts - because it said it needed the concessions in order to remain financially viable in the face of non-union competition. It delayed the imposition of the contract terms pending last-ditch negotiations over the weekend, but those talks collapsed, leading to the walkout.

In a memo to the company's management team yesterday, Thomas Lee, senior business manager at the company, wrote:

"Unfortunately, our negotiations broke down last night.  We tried our best, including extending our deadline another 48 hours until midnight Saturday.  Unfortunately, the two sides are too far apart.

"Now it's time to get ready for some kind of Union action.  This is the time we have been preparing for. Make contact with your key folks and prepare them to come to work as assigned and planned. Stay calm and let them know that everything will work out as the initial calls are made.

"We are still trying to get the Union to vote on our Final proposal.  Employees should continue to insist upon it.  Until they are  given that opportunity, we ask them to please come to work.....don't strike.  No vote = no strike!

"In keeping with earlier statements, we will be implementing premium pay reductions starting with Sunday pay today, however we will not be implementing our health care proposal. Therefore the employees health care, sick leave, etc., will remain the same."
KC's View:
Not good news. For anyone.