CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Union workers at nearly three dozen Kroger stores in West Virginia could be headed for the picket line after soundly rejecting the company’s contract offer.

Kroger workers in West Virginia
(Photo/UCFW Local 400)

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 400 announced Friday Kroger’s three-year proposed deal was voted down by its members 1,347 to 229. Union spokesman Jonathan Williams told MetroNews it was no surprise.

“The proposals that we had on the table were not ones we could recommend for ratification and we couldn’t get members to vote for it if we wanted to,” Williams said. “It’s time for the company to get serious and give us a contract offer that we can actually recommend.”

Eight-five percent of the union workers have authorized a strike. Williams said there’s no date set yet but one could be coming soon.

Williams added that talks with the company will continue in hopes of reaching a deal. Union members will continue to report to work in the meantime.

A series of rallies are planned to be held at select stores on March 11.

“We’ve reached out the company and we’re working with a federal mediator. We hope they (company officials) have come to their senses, but if not, we will be announcing next steps this (Friday) afternoon,” Williams said.

Kroger repeated again Friday afternoon that its offer was an “historical investment of $300 million in associate wages and healthcare in West Virginia.”

Loria Raya

“Our associates are the heart of Kroger, and we respect and value their hard work,” Kroger Mid-Atlantic President Lori Raya said in a statement. “Our proposal would put more money in every associate’s paycheck and preserve high-quality healthcare at 72% less than the average healthcare expense for West Virginia families. We remain dedicated to finding common ground and extend an open invitation to UFCW Local 400 for further dialogue.”

The company added its goal in every negotiation is “to reach a fair and balanced agreement that provides a comprehensive compensation package of wages and benefits for our dedicated associates.”

Williams said inflation has increased 18% in the last three years but the raises in the contract would amount to 12%. He added part-time workers at the bottom of the pay scale would be earning around $14 an hour at the end of the contract. He said workers also didn’t favor the proposal that would have allowed Kroger to raise out-of-pocket limits for health care following the second year of the contract.

“Members were not happy about the company trying to put money in one pocket and try and take it out of another with these health care costs,” Williams said.

UFCW Local 400 represents around 3,000 workers at 38 Kroger stores. Most of the stores are in West Virginia, with a handful in neighboring Kentucky and Ohio.