Kroger employees rejected the company’s latest contract proposal. On Friday, November 6, workers (who are members of the UFCW Local 400) voted on two separate-but-related matters. First, union-members rejected Kroger’s contract offer by a margin of 1,551 – 130. And second, they voted 1,490 – 199 to approve a strike.
“There is no way we can accept a contract that allows Kroger to cut employee healthcare, especially during a pandemic,” Jonathan Williams, who is the communications director for the UFCW Local 400, told the WV Daily News. “Kroger agreed to come back to the table, and talks will resume. We really hope that Kroger comes to its senses.”
Workers are not on strike at this time. Today’s vote was simply the Union approving the use of a strike, should that measure become necessary. However, the message sent by Kroger’s union-member employees was unmistakably clear.
“Right now, we’re working on a contract extension,” Williams said. “Either side can terminate that with 72 hours notice.”
Williams went on to explain that should the strike become a reality, the Union would be required to first provide Kroger with three-days notice of their intent to terminate the contract extension. This would, in effect, afford the grocery-chain three-days advance warning of the impending strike. Although talks between the two sides are scheduled to resume, union members are moving forward with preparations for the potential strike.
A major consideration are the pharmacy services offered by the grocery-chain. When the previous strike occurred in 2003, the pharmacies located inside the stores remained open to customers. Although it is incredibly premature to speculate on the pharmaceutical ramifications of a potential strike, Williams acknowledged that union members are aware of these concerns. While no decision has been announced on the matter, the historical precedent indicates that Kroger pharmacies may be deemed exempt from any potential work-stoppage.
“Nobody wants a strike,” Williams said. “But this is entirely about healthcare.”
According to a statement posted on the UFCW Local 400’s website, “As we told Kroger time and again, we fully expect members to reject a proposal that puts our health care at risk. 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.”
The statement concludes: “We’re ready to get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a deal that rewards hard-working Kroger associates.”
Kroger’s contract with the UFCW Local 400 expired on August 29 of this year. The initial contract extension expired on October 17. Union-member employees have staged several protests over what they consider to be Kroger’s “lack of fairness” since September.
A request for comment from Kroger’s media-relations department was not returned.
The West Virginia Daily News will have more on this developing story as new information becomes available.