CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Close to 3,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, many of them in West Virginia, are set to vote on a contract offer this week from Kroger, but it does not look promising, according to the union.

“Frankly we believe Kroger can do a lot better and they’re going to have to do a lot better if they expect the contract to be ratified,” said Jonathan Williams, spokesman for UFCW Local 400 told MetroNews Monday.

Loria Raya

Kroger, in a press release, said the offer is as good as it will get. The media release called the contract offer the company’s “… Last, Best, and Final Offer that will put more money in every associate’s paycheck and continue affordable, secure health care benefits….”

“Our associates are the heartbeat of our company, and we are committed to investing in their future,” said Lori Raya, president of Kroger Mid-Atlantic in the statement. “This offer invests more than $300 million in incremental wage increases.”

According to the company, the offer puts a wage increase into the pockets of every worker, and some will see as much as $2.00 an hour more.

But the wage offer is the key sticking point for the union. According to Williams the offer falls well short of meeting the inflation rate and will not be a strong increase for their members.

“Inflation has gone up cumulatively by 18 percent, but for a lot of folks working at Kroger, the raises Kroger is offering are only 12 percent. That’s a real step backward in spending value. We need to see real raises that overcome inflation,” he explained.

Kroger workers in West Virginia are scheduled to vote this week.
(Photo/UCFW Local 400)

He added the second stumbling block for the union is the healthcare offer. The offer from Kroger calls for increased health insurance premiums in the second year of the contract. The company said they are holding the line at an average premium of $134 per month for family coverage. Comparatively, Kroger said the premium is well below the average of $486 for family health plans in West Virginia. Williams said even thought the increase isn’t for two years, it’s still going to be a backward step.

“Before this contract is over with, healthcare costs go up. Well, that eats into any wage increases you get. So again, it’s a step backward for our folks,” he said.

Williams said the workers believe Kroger can do better since they are currently offering $25 billion to buy out one of their chief rival grocery chains Albertson’s . Williams said if there is money to make that deal, then there is money to make what the union believes is a fair offer to employees.

Voting on the contract for Local 400 will be Wednesday and Thursday and votes tallied on Friday. Williams said the bargaining committee is encouraging the rank and file to reject the offer and authorize a strike.

“That would empower the committee to call a strike at a strategic time. We would not be out on strike immediately, so a work stoppage would be further on down the line if we feel it’s necessary,” he added.

The workers are already working without a contract which expired over the weekend. Williams said without a better offer, there are no plans to extend the current agreement. This particular contract impacts workers at 38 stores in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio and covers about 3,000 employees.