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UFCW to count votes Friday on Kroger contract

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kroger Mid-Atlantic Region President Paula Ginnett wouldn’t say Thursday whether she thinks members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 will reject the company’s latest contract offer.

Paula Ginnett

The voting wrapped up Thursday on the multi-year deal with tabulation scheduled for Friday. The union bargaining group has urged the rank-and-file to reject the proposal and vote to authorize a strike.

Asked about a possible strike Ginnett said, “I couldn’t speculate on that at this point. It’s actually our best offer and so we’re waiting to hear from our associates and at that point we’ll continue our dialogue with the UFCW.”

Union workers began voting in parts of central and southern West Virginia on Tuesday. Union leadership says the company “is insisting on disastrous cuts to health care benefits.”

Ginnett said Thursday, during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline,” the company is proposing “modest annual increases” beginning in January 2022.

“Up to $36 a month for individual coverage and $96 a month for family coverage,” Ginnett said. “That’s significantly below the national average for a PPO.”

Kroger associates haven’t seen an increase in health care costs since 2014. Ginnett said the company has footed the bill for the increases over that six-year period. She said the new increases, which the company would share the cost of, won’t begin until after 2021 because of the ongoing pandemic.

“With COVID concerns and different things happening around people’s health care we really wanted to protect 2021,” Ginnett said.

The union website describes the contract as a proposal that includes “less coverage, higher deductibles, out of pockets, and copays, and increased prescription drug costs.”

Ginnett said health care costs have gone up for everyone.

“There are natural cost increases. It will be eight years between cost increases in rates before we’ll actually add a cost increase in this contract,” Ginnett said.

The contract also includes a $20 million investment in pay. All associates would see a pay increase, Ginnett said, and some increases could total up to $4.60 an hour over the life of the contract.

Ginnett said she’s talked with some workers about the proposed contract’s details and received varied responses.

“As I visit with associates I hear excitement for some of the things we’re doing and obviously questions about things that would change,” Ginnett said.

The union has also criticized Kroger for its response to workers during the pandemic. The union maintains confirmed COVID-19 cases are rising in stores. Ginnett said Thursday she’s proud of Kroger workers in West Virginia.

“We’ve got great associates. Stores that have been here for almost 100 years. I just want to appreciate those associates for everything they’re doing,” she said.

UFCW Local 400 plans to count the votes over Zoom beginning Friday morning at 11 o’clock.

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