The chains would not comment on terms of the contract proposal, but the union said they were asking employees to pay more for health care premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
The workers, whose contract expired in March, authorized a strike but continued to work as a federal mediator supervised negotiations.
Each of the chains is owned by a larger corporation. Ralphs is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons/Pavilions by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons by Supervalu.
Area grocery workers last went on strike in 2003 for about five months, resulting in lost sales that took years to recoup as shoppers altered their buying habits.
Overall, store counts in Southern California have dropped over the past five to 10 years for Vons and Ralphs, while the number of San Bernardino-based Stater Bros. Markets locations has remained flat, Spezzano said.
El Segundo, Calif.-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, launched in 2007, continues to expand. The store has 175 locations in California, Nevada and Arizona.
Although the company has lost an estimated $900 million to date, Spezzano said losses were declining every year, and the chain should be profitable by 2013.
Monrovia-based Trader Joe’s, which now has more than 350 stores throughout the U.S., has a format similar to Fresh & Easy and continues to have the highest sales per square foot in the industry, Spezzano said.
“Trader Joe’s is the gold standard for that kind of operation,” he said.
Lastly, ethnic chains, such as Superior Super Warehouse, Vallarta, Northgate and Cardenas, continue to prosper in Southern California, Spezzano said, as does the growing PFresh perishables format at Target stores.