By Lyra Bordelon
The unionized employees of Kroger have voted and overwhelmingly agreed to authorize a potential strike and rejected a contract offer from the corporation. The leadership of the Local 400 chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has not yet announced a strike, explaining that they would “call a strike at a time we determine is the most strategic.”
Considering a contract offer from Kroger that was heavily criticized by the UFCW for “significant changes” to “health care benefits that will negatively impact … coverage” for the workers, the union called for a vote. During a Zoom video conference on Friday, Nov. 6, the votes were tallied and the members of UCFW Local 400 decided 1,551 to 130 to reject Kroger’s contract offer. In addition, members voted 1,490 to 199 to allow union leaders to call a strike if negotiations do not improve.
“As we told Kroger time and time again, we fully expected members to reject a proposal that puts our health care at risk,” reads the press release from Local 400. “By voting this down so overwhelmingly, we have sent a message loud and clear to the company that we will not accept a substandard contract.”
Although a strike was approved by the overwhelming majority of voting members, this does not mean picket lines are starting to form outside of Kroger stores across West Virginia immediately. The unions strike FAQ page breaks down what happens next.
“For now, talks are continuing and we hope to negotiate a fair deal,” reads the FAQ. “Now that members have approved a strike, the union is authorized to call a strike at a time we determine is the most strategic. Before a strike could take place, our current contract extension would have to be canceled, which requires 72 hours’ notice by either party. A strike could only occur no less than 72 hours after notice is given.”
The FAQ also explains several big questions for members uncertain about what a strike could mean for their lives:
- “It is against the law for management to fire you because you exercise your legal right to strike.”
- “You do not receive pay from your employer while on strike, except for time you have already worked. The International Union will pay $100.00 a week beginning the eighth day of a strike. This means you will not get a strike pay check until after you have been on strike for two weeks.
- “Your union also has a hardship fund to assist members whose families face particularly difficult financial situations. If you are in such a hardship position, please let your representative know so that we can arrange assistance. We also have several community partners including a credit union, many food banks and other services across the region to help us through a strike.”
- “You are not eligible for unemployment benefits while on strike.”
- “Members who are on strike or locked out do not pay dues but remain in good standing in the union.
- “All employees in the bargaining unit are represented by the union. All employees, even those in their probationary period, have the legal right to strike and honor the picket line. Non-members within the bargaining unit have the same protection under the law as members do during a strike situation.”
For the time being, the contract negotiations continue.
“After months of working on the frontlines of a global pandemic, after being rightly called ‘heroes’ for our service, and after Kroger has made record profits while other businesses have suffered or closed, this is no time for Kroger to be cutting our benefits,” reads the union’s press release. “We deserve to be rewarded, not punished, for our hard work. We hope this vote will make Kroger come to its senses. We’re ready to get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a deal that rewards hard-working Kroger associates.”