New contract or strike for Kroger workers considered by union vote

By Bobby Bordelon

Either a new work contract or a strike will be the result of a vote held by Kroger employees who are members of the Local 400 chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union this week.

Local 400 represents workers in a number of businesses in both West Virginia and Virginia, including Kroger, ResCare, Tyson Foods, CVS, Macy’s, and more. On October 22 the union was provided a potential final contract in a document named “Kroger Limited Partnership Mid-Atlantic Marketing Area Best Offer for Settlement To UFCW Union Local 400 West Virginia Charleston Area Stores,” a deal the union is now pushing members to reject.

“On Saturday, Kroger published their latest proposal for a new West Virginia union contract,” reads the union website. “The proposal includes significant changes to your health care benefits that will negatively impact your coverage. After calling us heroes for putting ourselves and our families at risk throughout this pandemic, it is nothing short of a slap in the face.”

According to the union website, the company’s proposal would “place a limit on the amount of money Kroger is required to pay to fund” employee health care benefits. The cap could be inadequate to fund employee benefits and, “as early as 14 months from now,” employees could see their weekly contributions increased, coverage slashed, higher deductibles, high out of pocket expenses, increased prescription drugs costs, and a potential change in benefits making some employees “no longer eligible for health care.”

In a cover letter for the contract, Kroger emphasized the new funds put into the contract and looks to avoid a strike.

“As part of its good faith efforts to secure a new contract with Local 400 for its West Virginia Area retail grocery stores, Kroger has put significant contract improvements on the table—including more than $20 million in wage increases for our associates,” reads the cover letter. “Kroger has done so in connection with its efforts to avoid the multiple uncertainties that come with an unsettled, open agreement. Despite our best efforts and Kroger’s willingness to provide substantial increases and improvements for associates, the parties have been unable to reach a new deal. … We prefer to use available resources toward securing a new agreement that directly benefits our associates versus utilizing our resources to prepare fully for a potential work stoppage and to assess what the labor uncertainty may mean for our customers, suppliers, associates, and market share. Kroger, however, cannot delay indefinitely or sit idly by in the face of uncertainty that puts its business interests at risk.”

The letter also sets a deadline for the deal, hence the union vote this week.

“These terms must be accepted and ratified by November 6, 2020,” the cover letter reads. “ If not, Kroger will need to reconsider and adjust its positions, as appropriate, to account for the business uncertainties that have been generated by the parties’ continued failure to reach a deal. … We hope the Union will accept Kroger’s Comprehensive Best Offer and promptly schedule a ratification vote.”

Voting is slated to take place at the Rainelle Kroger (Store 734, 406 John Raine Drive) on Wednesday, November 4,  from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. In other areas, voting also took place on November 3 and will take place on November 5.

Vote counts will be Friday, November 6, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. ET via Zoom video conference to witness the vote count. UFCW Local 400 members must register at this link in order to attend.