Staff and Wire Reports
Posted: 09/18/2011 02:46:13 PM PDT

The union representing workers at Southern California’s three major grocery chains distributed picket signs Sunday as the clock ticked past the end of a 3-day notice period that would enable them to call a strike.

Union negotiators say they would continue talks if a resolution appeared to be in sight when the period ended at 7:10 p.m. Sunday, and stressed that members could continue working beyond that time.

At 8 p.m., neither union or grocers had made any statement on the progress of talks.

If little progress was made toward settling disagreements over health benefits, negotiators said they will tell their rank and file to walk off the job.

Some 62,000 grocery workers have been working at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores without a permanent contract since March.

Representatives for the supermarket chains say they are disappointed that the unions voted to possibly strike, but remain committed to reaching an agreement.

The union negotiates separately with San Bernardino-based Stater Bros., which would not be affected if the strike is called.

“Our hope is that we will get to a settlement and won’t have to go on strike,” said Connie Leyva, a member of the UFCW’s negotiating team and president of the local chapter representing workers in the Ontario and Pomona region.

Workers claim negotiations are stalled because the supermarkets are unwilling to compromise on health care contributions.

The 72-hour notice does not mean there will be strike or that a strike is imminent, said Christie Ly, Albertsons spokeswoman.

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