"This isn't us trying to bully anybody," Ferraino said. "This is us trying to get a deal."
Local 1360 represents about 2,300 cashiers and clerks at 28 Acme stores in Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, Salem, Cumberland, and Mercer Counties, Ferraino said.
Members voted 580-43 to authorize a strike after meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill.
If negotiators pursued that course of action, workers would likely be told to walk off the job Nov. 19, Ferraino said - the next scheduled bargaining session with Acme. The two sides had not met since last week.
Acme, whose corporate parent is Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc., called the vote "unfortunate."
"We do not believe that this is in the best interests of employees or our ongoing negotiations," read a statement from regional offices in Malvern.
The company said it believed the sides could settle amicably. "We all know that nobody wins in a strike - not our employees, our company or our customers," the statement read.
The tough talk in South Jersey follows a near-confrontation in July between Acme and its 4,500 clerks at 41 stores across the river in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs.
Members of UFCW Local 1776 had threatened to stay home after a take-it-or-leave-it offer followed 18 months of negotiations. A settlement averted a work stoppage.
A major sticking point in South Jersey has been health-care benefits, Ferraino said.
Acme has an incentive for a pact by year's end, Ferraino explained: Acme's pension-fund obligations would rise dramatically if talks were to run into 2010, he said.
Contact Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.