Roughly 62,000 grocery workers in Southern California are ready to vote on giving their unions the go-ahead for a strike if Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons supermarkets do not put an acceptable contract offer on the table by next week, a union spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday.

The Southern California employees have been without a contract since it expired in March. While the union workers previously voted to authorize a strike, changes to offers now being negotiated require another vote, said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

Grocery workers are holding picket captain meetings and plan to vote on a strike authorization next week, he said.

"Either they vote to authorize a contract or they vote to authorize a strike," said Shimpock, who added that labor talks are stalling and that unions would prefer to vote on a deal.

Ralphs owner Kroger Co (KR.N), Vons owner Safeway Inc (SWY.N) and Albertsons owner Supervalu (SVU.N) are negotiating as a group. A representative for the supermarket operators was not immediately available for comment.

Grocery employees are members of seven union locals. The biggest is United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

The two sides have a tentative agreement on pensions but still have to come to agreement on wage and workplace rules as well as healthcare coverage -- the biggest point of contention in the talks.

Southern California, a supermarket union stronghold, is one of the most competitive grocery markets in the United States. [ID:nN1E76B22N]

In 2003, the region played host to the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. grocery industry. That bitter, four-and-a-half-month standoff shifted more than $1 billion in sales, and the loyalty of some shoppers, to competitors.