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The possibility of an imminent strike in Loblaw Cos. Ltd. key Ontario market loomed Wednesday after union negotiators said they will probably not recommend the employer's final contract offer.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers said that round-the-clock talks were continuing to try to resolve the contentious issues.

"We expect to come out with a memorandum of agreement or, failing that, a final offer from the employer that in all likelihood our negotiating committee would not recommend," UFCW national director Wayne Hanley and two other local presidents said in a joint statement.

Union leaders have warned that the Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore and Zehrs supermarket employees could be out on strike by the end of the week, just before the Thanksgiving weekend.

The union has received "an overwhelming strike mandate" from members this week, it said. The workers are in a legal strike position as of Friday, although the union has not set a strike deadline. A strike could start earlier if either party walked away from the table.

A key issue is the company's plan to replace its conventional supermarkets with superstores, and lower the compensation of employees in those stores. Union members have pointed out that in 2003, Loblaw assured the UFCW that it would not ask for further wage or benefit concessions in future contract negotiations.