The Hannaford grocery store in Portland is seen here in a CBS 13 file photo. Stores like these would be affected if nearly 250 workers at the chain’s South Portland distribution center go on strike, which their union authorized Saturday. Credit: WGME

About 250 workers at a Hannaford distribution center in South Portland have authorized a strike after rejecting the supermarket chain’s offer for a three-year contract, according representatives of their union.

On Saturday, the group voted to reject Hannaford’s “last, best offer” and allow a strike, although they have not yet called one, said Tom Brown, servicing director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, which represents workers across New England.

After weeks of negotiating, the grocery company offered the workers a new three-year contract that included a 50-cent annual wage increase but reduced the starting wage for new hires by nearly $4, according to Brown.

“If the company doesn’t meet with us this week or doesn’t show any movement at the bargaining table we may have to have a job action,” Jim Carvalho, political director of UFCW 1445, said Monday afternoon.

Hannaford uses the Hemco Road warehouse as a hub to receive deliveries and dispatch groceries to its supermarkets. A strike would likely shut down the facility, which supplies groceries to stores across northern New England, Brown said.

On Monday evening a spokeswoman for a subsidiary of Hannaford’s parent company said that the company and union have agreed to mediation on Monday, Feb. 26.

“We have been advised there will not be a strike at this facility pending mediation,” said Christy Phillips-Brown of Delhaize America Distribution, LLC. Hannaford is owned by Ahold Delhaize, an international retailer based in the Netherlands.

Carvalho said Monday evening that there is a meeting scheduled for Feb. 26 but that his union had not made any agreement not to go on strike before then.

The warehouse employees are seeking a higher annual raise, options for less expensive health insurance plans and to eliminate the difference in starting wage between the last contract and this one, Brown said. Under the old contract, which expired Saturday, union workers started at just over $20 an hour, but the new one would bring people in at around $16 an hour, he said.

“They felt it was horrible that they would do that and create a two-tier workforce,” said Brown of his union members.

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