Kroger and its union workers at stores throughout the Columbus area and other parts of Ohio have agreed to resume talks on a new contract after workers rejected the company’s latest proposal.
The Cincinnati-based grocer and Local 1059 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union will meet Tuesday to continue negotiations, according to the company and the union.
“It is our hope that by returning to negotiations with Kroger representatives, we will negotiate an agreement that addresses our members’ concerns with the previous tentative agreements and makes our stores better,” Randy Quickel, the local’s president, said in a statement. “While we are returning to the bargaining table, we have secured the authorization necessary to call a strike in the event that the company forces our members further in that direction and are continuing to make preparations for that possibility.”
In its own statement, the grocery chain said, “Kroger Columbus Division remains focused on doing what is best for its associates, customers, and community … Kroger aims to balance significant wage increases for associates with keeping food affordable for customers.”
The local represents about 12,500 Kroger workers in 82 stores in a region that extends to 47 counties in central, north-northwest, and south-southeast Ohio including cities such as Mansfield, Zanesville and Portsmouth.
The company and the local are operating under the old contract that expired Aug. 6.
Last week, union members rejected the latest tentative deal struck between the union and the company and also authorized a strike.
Of the 6,719 members who voted over three days, 55% voted against the contract and 81% approved a strike, according to the union. A two-thirds vote of the voting members is required for strike authorization.
In anticipation of a possible strike, Kroger has advertised for temporary workers willing to cross picket lines to staff stores.Workers have complained that stores are understaffed, that they are overworked and that they continue to contract COVID-19.
One manager who asked not to be identified said starting pay for cashiers is about $12.50 per hour now and can max out at $17.10 after five years. During the pandemic, he said workers received $200 on their Kroger cards, extra fuel points a couple of times and a coupon for a free item from time to time for ice cream or sour cream.
Kroger has said its latest contract offer would boost wages by $1.80 per hour over three years and improve starting pay to $14.25 per hour.
“This fight is much deeper than just money,” the worker said in an email. “We have no 401(k) matching. Why is that? We don’t get sick days after three years of a global pandemic. Why is that? If wages are too expensive for Kroger, why are they flying in hundreds of managers and booking hotels to cover a potential strike? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on, say, not letting your employees walk out? We fed America, we made our bosses rich, now it’s time for what’s fair.”