Members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new, four-year collective bargaining agreement with Kroger in the Richmond and Tidewater areas that preserves their health and retirement security and increases their wages.
The bargaining was difficult and lengthy, largely due to complications and additional costs imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), said Local 400, “but after a sustained campaign of member activism, both on a regional and national level, Local 400 members were able to win a strong contract.” Notably, this contract implements raises based on seniority, abolishing the old system that left raises up to the discretion of store managers. It also includes health care “Maintenance of Benefits,” meaning that Kroger will contribute whatever is necessary to the health care fund to pay all benefits.
“This contract is an improvement,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “Our members will keep their current health care benefits and won’t be forced onto the often inferior plans offered through the ACA’s health care exchanges. Kroger will pay their share of benefits in full through the life of the contract, our members’ pensions will be properly funded, and our members won’t be subjected to management playing ‘favorites’ when it comes to pay increases.”
“It is the activism of our members, and the solidarity shown throughout the country, that enabled us to achieve these gains,” Federici said. “Their dedication, strength, and willingness to turn up the heat on Kroger at the store level when it was necessary, is the reason why we have this solid contract today—a contract that they not only deserve, but rightfully earned.”
Locally, Kroger members and their allies in the community leafleted stores, gathering thousands of shoppers’ pledges to stand with them through contract negotiations. They also rallied their coworkers at Kroger stores nationwide to wear buttons reading, “Solidarity with Virginia Kroger Workers”, on their aprons and shirts while at work to not only show management they were standing together in the fight for a fair contract, but also showing support for workers at the new Kroger Marketplace stores in Richmond and Virginia Beach.
The fight for fairness and respect at the Marketplace stores is just beginning, Local 400 says. Kroger’s new Marketplace stores, which resemble another giant retailer facing massive worker protests, sell not just groceries but clothing and jewelry. In these new stores, Local 400 reports, Kroger is not giving employees the opportunity to have a voice at work free form intimidation and coercion. “Instead, they are promising higher wages in exchange for a signature on a piece of paper saying they won’t join the union.” Local 400 leadership, Kroger members, and community activists hand delivered a letter to the Richmond Marketplace store manager in May demanding an end to these anti-worker tactics.
“It was a long challenging ride to reach this good contract we ratified today,” said Peggy Billie, a Bargaining Committee member who works at Kroger #500 in Richmond. “And we aren’t done. We are going to keep the pressure up on Kroger until our fellow workers at the Marketplace stores have the same rights and protections on the job as we do in other stores in the region and across the country.”
“From what we started with, when the company proposed taking away part-time and spousal health care, we’ve come a long way and on top of that we got some extra money in our pockets!,” said Joseph Vaughn, a Bargaining Committee Member who works at Kroger #537 in Virginia Beach. “We have demonstrated that by standing together we are strong!”
“It took us working past the original expiration date, but I’m proud of my coworkers, fellow bargaining committee members, and the leadership of our union, we fought hard and are proud of the agreement we have reached,” said Michael Holcomb, a committee member from Kroger #511 in Richmond.
“Management wanted to take everything away from us,” said Laverne Wrenn, a member of the Bargaining Advisory Committee who works at Kroger #538. “But we showed the company we are strong. We told them we are ready to fight. And that is what made the difference.”
The collective bargaining agreement takes effect retroactively as of August 3, 2014. It expires on August 4, 2018, and covers 3,500 workers. The previous contract was extended three times as negotiators sought to overcome the significant challenges before them.
“This contract will enable Kroger to maintain their dominance as the number one grocery retailer, while doing right by the workers whose productivity and customer service have lifted them to the top,” Federici said. “We look forward to implementing it and helping these chains expand their market share.”
UFCW Local 400 represents 40,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
photo: Bargaining committee member Larry Toppins goes over some of the contract's new improvements with members from his store.