WINNIPEG -- More than 2,200 Safeway workers in Manitoba are being asked to give their union a strike mandate after a break-off in contract talks with Sobeys West Inc.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 832, says the company is threatening to close some of its stores in the province if the workers don't agree to cuts.

Local president Jeff Traeger says they hope to return to the bargaining table on March 5 with an overwhelming strike mandate.

The union contract expires on March 17.

Jacquelin Weatherbee, Sobeys' director of external communications, says the company is committed to working toward a deal that works for everyone.

Sobeys has 23 stores in Manitoba, including 18 in Winnipeg.

"It's like bargaining with a gun to your head. It's a really bad situation for our members," said Traeger, who believes it's similar to what's happening to Safeway workers in British Columbia.

Last month the union said the company was closing 10 stores in that province, but if it received favourable terms and conditions for its FreshCo discount banner outlets it could open five of those in the shuttered Safeway locations.

"We've been bargaining for the workers (in Manitoba) for five decades. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get the workers to where they are now and it seems Sobeys wants to turn the clock back to the 1960s and 1970s," said Traeger. (Winnipeg Free Press)

(Companies included in this story: TSX:SBY)