Orange County Grocery Workers at Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions may soon go on strike.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324, which represents roughly 23,000 grocery and other retail workers in Orange County and parts of Los Angeles County, is one of seven Southern California branches that voted to authorize union leadership to call for a strike  if necessary, according to a press release from the union.

“California’s essential grocery workers made their voices heard with an overwhelming vote to stand together against the repeated and egregious unfair labor practices that Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions have engaged in,” reads a statement from the seven union chapters.

The vote comes after supermarket chains failed to reach a new agreement with workers before the current contract expired on March 6 and.

Employees are demanding better pay and safety conditions.

It also comes after the seven union branches filed unfair labor practice charges against the four grocery chains for undermining negotiations.

Ralphs has pushed back against the claims and says they have negotiated in good faith and in a lawful manner.

[Read: Will Orange County’s Grocery Workers Strike? Union Claims Unfair Labor Practices]

In an update on contract negotiations put out on Sunday, Ralphs said that the vote to authorize a strike does not necessarily mean there will be one.

“It means that the union can call one, if they choose.  But even then, whether an associate goes on strike or crosses the picket line is up to you. It’s your individual choice,” reads the update.

“At this point, the union has not called for a work stoppage. We hope they don’t and would expect the union to return to the table.”

Contract negotiations are expected to resume on Wednesday and no dates have been set yet for a strike, according to the union’s news release.

During the pandemic, Orange County’s grocery workers have been yelled at, spit on and insulted by customers for enforcing COVID safety protocols like mask mandates at stores, according to numerous interviews with employees.

Workers say they want a raise that reflects the risks they’ve taken for the community and their company.

“Through the past two years of the pandemic, it was the hard work and sacrifice of our members that helped these same companies earn billions in profits. As we continue at the bargaining table, all of our Local Unions are committed to getting a contract that reflects everything these essential grocery workers have contributed to their employers, their customers, and their communities,” reads the press release from the union.

At Ralphs, employees are asking for a $5 increase to their hourly pay over the next three years — a roughly $1.67 per hour raise annually.

Instead, they are being offered $1.80 over three years, an annual 60-cent increase to their hourly pay – an amount workers say doesn’t make a dent in their cost of living needs.

“Our goal is to reach an agreement that provides a solid and competitive package of wages and benefits for our associates but that is right for our business, too. We need to stay competitive in a very challenging market to do that,” reads the update from Ralphs.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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