SANTA BARBARA — Rite Aid workers from Santa Maria to Los Angeles County, including those stores in Santa Barbara, voted on Thursday night to authorize a strike. A source close to the situation told KEY News that nearly 100 percent of the UFCW Local 770 union members rejected Rite Aid Corporate’s latest contract offer and authorized a strike if negotiations stall. Other union groups still need to vote before all the results are in. The voting should wrap up by early next week. “I want to reassure consumers that they hopefully won’t be seeing picket lines next week even if this vote passes,” said Mike Shimpock, Local 770 spokesperson.The contract with the pharmacy chain expired and new contract terms aren’t sitting well with workers. Most of the disagreement has to do with health care contributions. If the deal at the bargaining table doesn’t go well and workers walk off the job, some customers said they won’t cross the line. “Well if they are that adamant about not working, then there’s obviously a huge issue that I wouldn’t want to get involved in. I’d definitely respect them and go somewhere else,” said Jenny Dombrady, Santa Barbara resident. The issue is about costs. Rite Aid wants employees to contribute more money to their health plan. “They’re put such requirements on the healthcare plan that it could cost our members up to $10,000 a year just to maintain their healthcare benefits,” said Shimpock. The union spokesperson said for some workers, that amount exceeds 50 to 75 percent of their yearly income and they won’t be able to afford it. Rite Aid has called the strike authorization vote premature. In a statement, Ashley Flower with the corporation said, “with respect to healthcare, we’re simply asking associates to pay their fair share towards the cost of their healthcare, just as millions of people do across the country.””If the fair share is 75 percent of your take home pay, I think we need to redefine ‘fair share,'” responded Shimpock. Bargaining sessions are scheduled for the next three weeks and Rite Aid said they will continue to work with the union to reach a new agreement, “one that is fair to all parties involved.” The Local 770 said Rite Aid is also trying to eliminate overtime and retirement benefits in the new contract. The changes would effect 3,000 workers.
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