CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Union workers at dozens of Kroger stores in West Virginia have rejected the company’s latest contract offer and voted to approve a strike.
The votes from members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 were counted Friday. Members voted 1,551-130 to reject Kroger’s offer and 1,490-199 in favor of strike authorization. A strike has not yet been scheduled.
A union statement said the vote totals are not surprising.
“As we told Kroger time and time again, we fully expected 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 union said.
Kroger Mid-Atlantic Corporate Affairs Manager Allison McGee said the company is disappointed that its ‘comprehensive best offer to settle’ was not accepted.
“We remain committed to reaching an agreement,” McGee said. “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.”
Health care coverage is the main sticking point. The union said Friday Kroger’s proposal would place a limit on the amount of money the company is required to pay to fund health care benefits.
“According to the experts, as early as 14 months from now, this cap could be exceeded and several things could happen, including increases to weekly contributions; health care coverage being slashed; higher deductibles, copays, and out-of-pocket costs; increased prescription drug costs; and eligibility for benefits changing making some workers no longer eligible for health care,” the union statement said.
Kroger Mid-Atlantic Region President Paula Ginnett said Thursday, during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline,” the company was 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.
UCFW Local 400 said Friday it hopes the votes send a message to the company that it will not accept a “substandard contract.”
“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. We deserve to be rewarded, not punished, for our hard work,” the union said. “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.”
Despite the strike authorization, McGee said Friday it would continue to be “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,” she said.