Just days before a grocery contract expires for some 70,000 union workers in Southern California, negotiations between Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs and the unions have broken down. The three grocery chains refuse to talk and have dismissed union proposals because the members have not authorized a strike, said Rick Icaza, head of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. “They’re really not under the gun until we have a strike vote,” Icaza said. Not true, said Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman hired by the chains. Each has offered dates to sit down and meet. Union members can also work without a contract or agree to extend the current contract. The chains are not without recourse, either. They can lock out employees if no deal is in place. They have made it clear they don’t mind waiting for a resolution. “We’ve been pretty consistent in saying that Monday’s date is not a significant date in the negotiations because it’s very common for these negotiations to go on months past the expiration of a contract,” Tessler said. The seven UFCW unions decided to negotiate individually with each of the three chains this year, creating 21 sets of negotiations. Two other grocery chains, Stater Bros. and Gelson’s, have negotiated a new contract. Both ended a two-tier system, the unions said. [email protected] (818) 713-3735160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “The grocery companies will tell you that the union is not responding to them,” Tessler said. “That’s why there’s no dates as far as we’re concerned.” When negotiations fell apart three years ago, workers went on a 139-day strike – the largest in the nation’s history. One of the results was a two-tier benefits system for employees, which still remains a point of contention. The system gives veteran employees richer benefits than new hires, which has led to high turnover and training costs, the union said. But the chains say the system is working just fine. Now, there is only a sliver of a chance for a new deal before the contract expires at 11:59 p.m. Monday. As time runs out, the possibility of a strike is gaining ground. To strike, union members must take a strike-authorization vote, which could happen next week. If approved, it would allow workers to strike at any time.