Raley's went on strike today after three days of marathon negotiations failed to produce a new contract.
Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers told their members to head to the picket lines at 6 a.m., when most Raley's and Nob Hill Foods stores across Northern California were set to open.
The company said Sunday morning that every one of its stories would remain open.
"We expect all our employees who are scheduled to work on Sunday to show up for work. We have plans in place to deal with any job actions to keep our stores open and operating," the company said in a statement shortly before 6 a.m.
UFCW officials said health insurance remained the main sticking point. The company was proposing changes to the plan, including elimination of coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees.
"For 15 months Raley's has tried to dictate a laundry list of takeaways including devastating members' and retirees' health and welfare plan and nothing has changed," said Local 8 President Jacques Loveall in a memo to his members. "It's clear from their actions it's time to teach them the meaning of respect."
He said it was "obvious" that the last three days of negotiations "was nothing more than a sinister and shameful delay tactic designed to allow managers more time to lie to, threaten and intimidate our members. Clearly their goal was to persuade you to abandon your union."
Raley's says the strike is its first in its 77-year history. The company had set a midnight Saturday deadline for reaching a deal. The talks went on another two hours, and then broke off. Raley's then unilaterally implemented many of the terms of its "last and final" contract offer. The basic wage rate stays the same, but there will be a 2-year pay freeze and the elimination of bonus pay for working Sundays. Holiday bonus pay is scaled back.
The strike doesn't immediately affect Bel Air stores, whose workers haven't yet taken a strike-authorization vote. Union officials said such a vote will occur soon.
At the Raley's on Freeport Boulevard in Sacramento's Land Park neighborhood, eight union members clutched picket signs about 6:30 a.m. and vowed to stay loyal to the union.
The picket lines will stay up "however long it takes," said Brandi Brown, a meat clerk who has worked at Raley's six years.
"We're out here just fighting for our wages and our health care and our retirees' health care," said Robert Barbieri, a 31-year veteran of Raley's. He estimated a half dozen union members crossed the picket line to go to work.
A store manager approached the pickets, hugged several of them, and then walked back into the store, fighting back tears. The store's director Ron Konkel referred all questions to company management.
While the strike has the support of allied unions, such as Teamsters Local 150, Raley's should be able to keep operating. Spokesman John Segale said the drivers are expected to deliver goods to the vicinity of the stores, and then store managers will retrieve items from the trucks and bring them inside.
But getting shoppers inside will be another matter. One early morning customer drove by the front of the store, realized a strike had begun, and drove off. "I support ya," she told the pickets.
But some customers were willing to cross the picket line.
Joel Barton of Elk Grove, who bought 12-packs of soda at the Land Park Raley's store, said he had no reluctance to shop there. "Not a bit -- Raley's is a good company," he said.
"I told (the strikers) on the way in they ought to be picketing Wal-Mart," he said.
Raley's and other traditional grocers have been losing market share to nonunion stores like Wal-Mart, which pay their workers roughly half as much as the union chains.
Raley's top pay for union workers is $21 an hour plus benefits, although most workers aren't at the top of the pay scale.
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