SOUTH PORTLAND — More than 200 union employees at the Hannaford Bros. distribution center on Hemco Road rejected the company’s final contract proposal Saturday and authorized a strike if negotiations do not continue.

Jim Carvahlo, Massachusetts-based political director for Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said the two main issues are the rising cost of health care and the company’s decision to reduce the starting rate for new employees.

He said the company is a successful, foreign-owned business that should treat employees fairly, especially since they have made the South Portland center one of the most successful in the country.

The union has 15,000 members in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

A meeting has been scheduled Monday, Feb. 26, between the union and the company, according to Delhaize America Distribution. “We have been advised there will not be a strike at this facility pending mediation,” a company press release said Tuesday.

Delhaize America Distribution operates nine distribution facilities in six states and employs more than 8,500 at these facilities, according to the company.

“After weeks of bargaining, the current three-year contract expired at midnight Saturday with disappointing and unacceptable movement from Hannaford in key important economic areas,” the union said in a press release Monday.

The release from the union said Hannaford’s Belgium-base owner, Delhaize, merged with grocery giant Ahold in 2016 to create one of the largest grocery chains in the United States. Besides Hannaford, Ahold Delhaize operates Stop & Shop, Giant, and Food Lion.

Ahold Delhaize’s fourth-quarter sales last year rose to nearly $20 billion, and the company has recently been buying back its own stock, according to the union.

“We don’t want to have to strike, but if we can’t make the progress we need to to ensure myself and my fellow co-workers can continue to make a decent living in our communities, then we may have to,” Bob LaBrecque of Local 1445 said in the union press release.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext.,106 or at [email protected]