Local union workers at the Big 4 grocery chains (Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and Safeway) rejected the latest contract proposal from their employers. Ninety-four percent of voting members said no, although UFCW 21, the union that represents them, officials could not say what percentage of workers voted.

Tom Geiger, UFCW 21 spokesman, says that workers are concerned about reduced hours and cuts to pay, health benefits, and pension plans. "People thought this was unacceptable," he says. (UFCW 21 also just spent $591,000 to keep liquor stores state-run in a tag-team fund-raising campaign with Budweiser and the beer lobby.)

But don't go rushing out to stock up on cereal at QFC just yet. When asked when the strike would start, Geiger replied, "There is no strike to start quite yet. This vote authorizes a strike. If the employers makes no improvement to their proposal, then we might have to cross that bridge." If they do "cross that bridge," it would be the first time area grocery workers have struck since May 1989.

As it stands now, the current contract runs through November 15. Even if it expires and there is no replacement, both parties would continue to operate under its terms. If the parties wish to terminate the contract, either one or both of them could submit a 72 hour notice of termination at any time after November 15.

It is difficult to project what a strike would look like. Asked if stores would stay open, Geiger says that it would be up to store owners. (I have calls in to both Kroger and Safeway.) He also noted that this contract proposal only involves the Big 4 chains, not the many smaller stores and markets with UFCW 21 workers. And of course it doesn't involve non-union Walmart.

Now let me piss in the union's corn flakes for a moment. In their press release, UFCW 21 make a bunch of claims about "out-of-state" chains paying their CEOs too much money and actually doing pretty well in the recession. This is bullshit. If you just look at Kroger's annual report (PDF), you will see that Kroger and its shareholders went from earning $1.25 billion in 2008 to just $70 million in 2009. And as for the executive compensation trope, UFCW might want to worry about the plank in its own eye first. UFCW International president Joe Hansen enjoys a compensation of $345,426. They've got a retired "special assistant" bagging $302,454 and a retired International VP earning $230,186.

No one better get in the way of me and my QFC, dammit!