Rite Aid workers in Southern California vote to authorize a strike

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Rite Aid workers in Southern California could take to the picket lines as early as next week.

Union workers at dozens of Rite Aid locations in southern California have voted to authorize a strike. Negotiations for a new contract between Rite Aid and seven local units of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have been underway for two months.

But those negotiations haven't made much progress. Both sides agreed to extend the current contract by a few weeks to this Sunday, but that's about all they've agreed on.

The union says Rite Aid wants 34 concessions from workers, including raising out-of-pocket costs for health care to as much as $10,000 per year; eliminating health benefits for retirees; and taking away guaranteed minimum work hours for employees.

“The members’ courageous decision to stand up to these unfair takeaways will help us show our resolve at the bargaining table,” said Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770, in a statement. “We don’t want to go on strike, but if the corporation that owns Rite Aid refuses to negotiate for a fair compromise, we must stand up for ourselves and all other workers getting unfairly squeezed by corporate greed.”

Rite Aid called the strike vote premature and said the union hasn't offered a counterproposal. "Rather than talk about a strike that really serves to help no one — not our associates, not the union, not Rite Air and especially our customers and patients — we think all of our time and effort is best spent preparing to get back to the table and doing the hard work to reach an agreement," the company said in a statement of its own.

Two more days of contract talks are scheduled for this week. Union leaders say if they don't like how discussions are progressing, picketing could begin outside dozens of Rite Aids between Kern County and the Mexican border early next week.

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