By JoAnne Powers
After 1100 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 voted to authorize a strike at 41 Kroger Grocery Stores in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee, the union has reached a tentative contract deal with the company. The union says it’s a much better deal than the company’s previous “last best and final offer,” where the highest raise that anyone at these stores would ever see would be 25 cents. Local 400 Communications Manager Jonathan Williams:
[Jonathan Williams]: “The same week that we had this offer, the company gave its millionaire CEO a 17 percent raise. The company made 2 and a half billion dollars last year alone, but our associates, who actually keep the stores running, who actually make the company a billion-dollar success, they get a quarter. And that was enough to upset a huge number of our members. They unanimously voted to authorize a strike after unanimously voting to reject the 25 cent raise. They were entirely unified against it.”
Williams was unable to divulge details of the tentative agreement, but mentioned elements of the company’s earlier offer that were no longer on the table. In addition to the maximum 25 cent raise, that previous offer would also have cut retired workers off from their health care, and keep the lowest-end Kroger workers such as baggers at the minimum wage, with absolutely no increase. Williams says their victory resulted from the workers standing together:
[Jonathan Williams]: “It sent a very loud and clear message to Kroger that our members are willing to stand up for themselves, are willing to fight for a fair deal…and this company can more than afford it, and we’re willing to stand up and fight for it. Shortly after…I mean very shortly after this vote was taken, we were getting calls from the company to re-open negotiations. What they had previously described as their ‘last best offer,’ they were now saying wasn’t the last offer and it wasn’t the best offer. ‘We can do better, please let’s sit down and avoid a strike.’”
The strike authorization empowered the union’s negotiating committee to call a strike unless the company moved to give workers a better offer.
[Jonathan Williams]: “It’s not an easy thing to go on strike. No one wants to go on strike. Everyone wants to continue working. At the same time, enough is enough. Sometimes it’s the difference between right and wrong, and you just have to stand up for yourself. And the beauty of being in a union, is that you don’t have to stand up for yourself all by yourself. You can band together with you co-workers and show even a huge company, the largest grocery chain in the U.S., that you deserve more and you deserve better. And the company listened. We have a better offer on the table now. It’s not everything we wanted, but it is the best offer that we’ve gotten in many months of negotiations.”
Local 400 members will be voting on the proposed contract June 8th.