Albertsons workers have voted to authorize a strike against the chain, raising the stakes of current contract negotiations between Southern California grocers and unions representing some 70,000 employees. The yes vote taken Sunday gives union leaders the power to call for a strike against Albertsons at a moment’s notice. But because both sides agreed in talks earlier this month to extend the existing labor contract, workers could not walk out until April 13 or after. If Albertsons workers strike, Vons and Ralphs could lock out employees just as the two chains did three years ago when workers went on strike for 139 days, one of the nation’s longest work stoppages. Union leaders chose to strike against Albertsons because its parent company, Supervalu, is in a weaker position than the two other chains, having bought out Albertsons last year and taking on about $7.7 billion in debt. Sharlette Villacorta, a deli manager at the Albertsons on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles, said she supported a strike even though she was still paying off $15,000 worth of debt from the last strike. “I can’t afford to go on strike and I know a lot of my members can’t go on strike,” Villacorta said Monday. “But we have to stand up for what we believe in, otherwise they are going to walk all over us.” During the 20-week strike three years ago, the chains lost an estimated $2 billion while competitors gained new customers. The authorization vote makes the union a bigger threat to Albertsons, but it also poses risks for the union. “The workers’ unions are in a delicate position there because they know full well there are jobs on the line if they weaken the chains and drive people to other grocery outlets,” said Dan Blake, director of the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University, Northridge. “On the other hand, the union is still hoping that the management realizes that it’s vulnerable too and will be willing to settle.” Shimpock said the union planned to file charges against Albertsons relating to intimidating and interrogating employees before the strike vote, but the chains said the claims were meritless. The unions have demanded the end to a two-tier system that gives richer benefits to veterans at the expense of new hires. The seven grocery unions represent about 70,000 workers. To strike, union leaders would have to give 72 hours’ notice to end the automatic day-to-day contract extensions that kick in when the three-week extension ends April 9. A second vote among union members is not necessary to go on strike. [email protected] (818) 713-3735 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “The whole point of this was to take this point of solidarity back to the negotiating table and try to get the markets to negotiate with us seriously,” said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Both parties agreed to two contract extensions after the original agreement expired March 5. A federal mediator running the talks put a gag order on both sides, but the strike vote may indicate a breakdown in negotiations. A spokeswoman for the chains called the vote “unfortunate.” “We have every reason to believe we can achieve a mutually beneficial contract,” said Adena Tessler in a prepared statement. About 11,000 of the 22,000 union members working at 249 Albertsons across Southern California voted Sunday to authorize a strike. Union leaders declined to share the tally but said the vote needed two-thirds support to pass.