ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) UPDATE
Kroger union employees voted Wednesday to authorize a strike and rejected the company's latest offer.
More than 1,100 union workers in the region voted at the Salem Civic Center.
The vote was unanimous to reject Kroger’s most recent contract proposal. All but one person voted to authorize the strike.
If the union employees ultimately vote to go on strike, the union says 41 stores in the region would be impacted.
A Kroger spokesperson says the company and the union have agreed to work under the terms of a previous contract until June 4. The company hopes the two sides can return to the bargaining table.
"That is what is best for everyone, especially our associates. Kroger remains committed to providing all associates a solid and competitive pay and benefits package in this next contract," the Kroger spokesperson said.
Just because the union voted to authorize a strike, doesn't mean a strike will actually happen once the June 4 contract expires.
"The best course is for the parties to return to the table and work through issues. That is what we are committed to doing," the Kroger spokesperson said.
Bargaining committees from Kroger and the union, UFCW 400, are scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday.
"This the best course for everyone, especially our associates. We look forward to returning to the table and working through issues with the union," a Kroger spokesperson said in a statement. "Kroger remains committed to providing all associates a solid and competitive pay and benefits package in this next contract.
The parties have signed a contract extension through June 4."
These employees are part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 union.
They are cashiers, meat cutters, and even employees who stock shelves.
At issue is Kroger's last contract offer of a 25 cents an hour raise for full time employees and 20 cents for part time.
The bargaining committee asked for a 45-cent raise increase. Union employees also want paid sick days but they were not in the offer.
The offer also did not renew Kroger's health insurance for its retirees. Workers are on not on strike yet, but if the union and Kroger can't come to an agreement, employees expect to.
"We understand this is not just us. It's a fight going on all across this country where all the money is going to the top and none is trickling down to the workers," said Tim Vines of the Union Bargaining Committee. "So we're trying to make a statement here and say enough's enough."
Kroger cashier Judy Toney added: "I don't want to go on strike. A lot of employees can't afford a strike, but we will if we have to."
Here is the news release from the union:
This morning, Kroger employees voted unanimously to reject the company’s “last best offer” and to authorize a strike at 41 stores in the Roanoke Valley region. The associates are union members with the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 and work as cashiers, meat cutters, stockers and clerks at Kroger stores.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but at the end of the day, we had to do it. Sometimes enough is enough,” said Kevin Johnson, a Kroger associate and union member who voted in favor of the strike authorization.
The vote to authorize a strike took place at a union membership meeting at the Salem Civic Center earlier this morning. Before voting to authorize the strike, the members voted unanimously to reject a proposed collective bargaining agreement Kroger described as its “last best offer” to associates.
The offer would have provided only slight wage increases and no paid sick days for store associates. It also fell short of renewing Kroger’s commitment to providing health insurance for its retirees.
“It was a slap in the face,” explained Todd Dolehanty, one of thirteen Kroger associates who make up the union’s bargaining team in contract negotiations with the company. “Kroger is more successful than ever before. They just gave the CEO a 17% raise. But they told us, the people who make that success possible in the first place, that all they could afford was a quarter.”
Kroger presented the last-minute proposal less than one hour before the current collective bargaining agreement was set to expire at midnight on Sunday, May 8. The bargaining committee voted unanimously to reject the offer before presenting it to the full membership for a vote this morning.
Kroger is the largest traditional grocer in the United States and made a record-breaking $2.4 billion in profits last year alone. Last week, Rodney McMullen, the CEO of Kroger, was rewarded a 17 percent pay raise by the company’s board of directors. His total compensation jumped from $9.2 million to a staggering $11.2 million. Assuming he works an average number of hours per year, which the federal Office of Personnel Management estimates to be 2,087, McMullen now makes $5,366.55 per hour, or $89.44 per minute.
“The company is earning record profits, $2.4 billion. It's time they take care of the associates that are in there every day working hard to make sure that company is successful,” said Dawn Greenway, who works in the deli at a Kroger store in Roanoke and is a member of the union’s bargaining committee.
“The customers come into the stores for the local people employed there, not for the corporation,” explained Mary Little, a department manager who has worked at the store in Boonsboro for nearly a decade.
Despite its skyrocketing success, Kroger has refused to provide its associates with paid sick days and is proposing to force all retired employees off of the company-provided healthcare and onto “Obamacare” exchanges funded by taxpayers.
The strike authorization affects 41 Kroger stores in the region stretching from Kingsport, TN to Harrisonburg, VA. Approximately 3,000 of the affected associates are union members with Local 400 of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Kroger Stores Affected:
Kroger #118, Clifton Forge, VA
Kroger #202, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #208, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #209, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #210, Blacksburg, VA
Kroger #215, Radford, VA
Kroger #226, Salem, VA
Kroger #228, Waynesboro, VA
Kroger #239, Charlottesville, VA
Kroger #255, Abingdon, VA
Kroger #261, Johnson City, TN
Kroger #273, Bluewell, WV
Kroger #310, Harrisonburg, VA
Kroger #316, Princeton, WV
Kroger #320, Salem, VA
Kroger #322, Vinton, VA
Kroger #325, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #326, Lynchburg, VA
Kroger #327, Lynchburg, VA
Kroger #328, Kingsport, TN
Kroger #330, Salem, VA
Kroger #334, Charlottesville, VA
Kroger #335, Bristol, VA
Kroger #343, Staunton, VA
Kroger #345, Christiansburg, VA
Kroger #347, Rocky Mountain, VA
Kroger #350, Martinsville, VA
Kroger #359, Charlottesville, VA
Kroger #364, Daleville, VA
Kroger #367, Johnson City, TN
Kroger #375, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #377, Forest, VA
Kroger #391, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #399, Hardy, VA
Kroger #400, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #401, Roanoke, VA
Kroger #402, Blacksburg, VA
Kroger #403, Waynesboro, VA
Kroger #404, Lexington, VA
Kroger #406, Appomatox, VA
Kroger #408, Lynchburg, VA
Union employees with Kroger have signed a temporary extension through June 4.
The union is still planning to vote on the company's latest offer and whether or not to authorize a strike on Wednesday morning.
Kroger and the union have been negotiating a new contract since March.
About 3,000 union employees in the Roanoke Valley have been working with a temporary contract since earlier this month.