Raley's employees at the supermarket's four Sonoma County stores Sunday joined thousands across the state in the first walkout in the company's 77-year history.
After three days of failed contract negotiations, the strike began at 6 a.m. Sunday at most of the grocery chain's approximately 130 stores in California and Nevada.
Threats to cut health benefits were central to the dispute, said a group of picketers outside of Rohnert Park's store on State Farm Drive, who had all worked for the company for between 16 and 32 years.
"I love Raley's, I gave my life to Raley's," said Linda Coffee of Sebastopol. "Now we're getting close to retirement and they're trying to take (benefits) away."
The strike came after all-day talks Saturday. A midnight deadline was extended at the request of a federal mediator, but talks broke down around 2 a.m. Sunday, said Mike Henneberry, a United Food and Commercial Workers Union spokesman.
"The company's position is fairly breathtaking. They really haven't changed much of any of their positions in the 15 months that we've been in talks," Henneberry said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union represents nearly 100 employees at the Rohnert Park store as well as meat counter workers at stores on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa, Lakewood Drive in Windsor and North McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma.
The union said it represents 7,400 of the chain's employees across California and Nevada.
Stores normally operate from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but the Rohnert Park store has reduced its hours during the strike to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In Rohnert Park, Raley's clerk Chris Jensen, 59, said she and her fellow union members are willing to take pay cuts but they just cannot swallow further reductions in medical benefits nor will they accept a wholesale cut of medical benefits for retirees.