In a move that could spark a showdown with its employees, Raley's said Wednesday it has submitted its "last and final offer" to union negotiators after 14 months of fruitless contract negotiations.
The West Sacramento grocery chain said it expects leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers to bring the proposal to UFCW members for a vote.
"It's in the union's court," said Raley's spokesman John Segale. Although it includes wage and benefit concessions, he said the proposal "will be very appealing to our employees."
But it's far from certain that UFCW members will agree. The union has expressed anger with Raley's drive for concessions, and the rank-and-file members voted months ago to authorize a strike.
Union leaders indicated they aren't pleased with Raley's latest offer.
"Raley's proposal is inferior to the proposal that was already rejected by the members when they authorized a strike," said Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW Local 8 in Roseville, in a prepared statement.
He said federal mediators have contacted the UFCW "regarding further discussion."
Mike Henneberry, a spokesman for UFCW Local 5 in San Jose, said negotiators are "in the process of evaluating the offer."
Raley's and the union held their last formal bargaining session in June but have "continued a dialogue" since then, Segale said.
The Northern California negotiations are seen as a crucial test of whether supermarket employment can continue to provide decent middle-class wages.
All three union chains Raley's, Save Mart Supermarkets and Safeway have pressed for concessions in order to compete more effectively against nonunion grocers such as Wal-Mart.
So far only one of the chains, Save Mart, has secured a new contract with the UFCW. The deal includes concessions and was barely approved by the union.
Segale said Raley's proposal "has benefits that don't exist in the Save Mart contract." Notably, it preserves paid holidays and vacation days that were eliminated in the Save Mart deal, he said.
Raley's offer keeps basic wages frozen at their current level. But it eliminates "premium pay" for certain shifts, such as Sundays. Newly hired workers would lose premium pay for night shifts.