Negotiations between Kroger and the UFCW Local 400 are proceeding this week. However, the possibility of a strike continues to loom in the distance.
In an emailed statement, Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Mid-Atlantic, had this to say: “We are disappointed that our Comprehensive Best Offer to Settle was not accepted. We remain committed to reaching an agreement. We have told union leaders we remain ready and willing to meet in additional negotiation sessions to see how we might resolve any outstanding issues.
It’s business as usual at Kroger. Associates are continuing to report to work as scheduled. A strike authorization doesn’t mean a strike. At this point, the union has not called for a work-stoppage. Our focus remains on our associates and recognizing and rewarding them for their hard work.”
Despite the grocery-chain’s efforts to downplay the appearance of an imminent strike, union representatives are preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Jonathan Williams, communications director for the UFCW Local 400 told the WV Daily News, “Although we’d rather avoid it, we’re spending the week preparing our members for a strike in the event that Kroger continues to insist on healthcare cuts. We published a brief guide for members last week and we’re holding training for picket captains at every location represented by the contract.”
The contract between Kroger and the UFCW Local 400 expired on August 29 of this year. At present, both sides are working under the terms of a contract extension, which either side may terminate on 72 hour’s notice. The main point of contention preventing the two sides from agreeing upon a new contract are the healthcare cuts proposed by Kroger.
There is still no word as to whether or not a work-stoppage would affect Kroger’s pharmacy locations. During the previous strike in 2003, Kroger pharmacies were exempt from the work-stoppage. While it is possible that situation will be repeated should a strike occur in the near future, that decision has yet to be made. This is particularly concerning in light of the pandemic, as well as Kroger pharmacies being a primary location for the administration of flu vaccinations.
During his Monday, November 9 coronavirus response media-briefing, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice was asked about the potential impact a Kroger strike would have on the state’s ability to administer flu vaccinations.
“I hope that good sense will prevail on both sides, and both sides will come to a resolution that will work for everybody. We all hope and pray for just that,” Justice said. “But we all know how too important our pharmacies are to us, our flu shots, or the businesses that are distributing food. And so, if need be, whatever we will have to do, we’ll do. That’s just all there is to it. We will not let people go without their flu shots, or without their prescriptions, or inconvenience beyond belief. And we will not let people surely go without being able to shop and get their groceries and that kind of stuff. So when it really boils right down to it, we hope and pray that everybody’s gonna just use their good sense and come to an amenable resolution here. But we’re monitoring the whole situation and we’ll do whatever we’ve got to do.”
Justice concluded his statement with, “If we deem that we’ve gotta do something from the governor’s standpoint in those communities to be able to administer flu shots or whatever like that, we’ll do whatever we’ve got to do.”
The West Virginia Daily News will have more on this developing story as additional information becomes available.