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UFCW Kroger Workers Rally to Keep Jobs

Kroger workers, customers and community allies gathered in front of the Frederick Boulevard Kroger last week to protest the company’s unfair treatment of union store workers. The company closed the Portsmouth Kroger Food & Drug store on Saturday and is transferring most the store’s union workforce to a store in Yorktown, 25 miles away.

Store workers delivered a petition to Kroger requesting that workers be allowed to transfer to a local Kroger Marketplace store instead. Hundreds of customers have pledged not to shop at either of the newly opened Kroger Marketplace stores until the Kroger grocery store workers are allowed to transfer to a local store while retaining their union benefits and wages. More than 60 workers have requested this transfer.

“It’s been hard saying goodbye to coworkers that just can’t make the 50 mile round-trip to the new store. We’ve built our lives around this store and the Portsmouth community,” said Laverne Wren, who has worked for Kroger for 16 years. “Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. But this false choice – commute or quit – was never part of our contract.”

Many workers will lose their jobs if they cannot find transportation to Yorktown. Nick Roe, who has special needs, has worked for Kroger for 17 years. He cannot drive, and relies on his parents to drive him to and from work each day. If Nick is not allowed to transfer to the local Kroger Marketplace, his ability to keep a job he loves will rely on his parents’ ability to drive 100 miles each day. Other workers are weighing the toll that this commute will take on their families. Michael Cowan works the overnight shift in order to share childcare duties with his wife. The long commute means that the family will have to start sending their young daughter to daycare during Michael’s commute.

“Kroger is deliberately expanding its non-union stores with the acquisition of Harris Teeter, and with this new tactic of building non-union Kroger Marketplaces, and then pushing loyal union workers out of town,” said Mark Federici, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 400. “If we want to keep good jobs in Portsmouth, then it is time for all workers – grocery and Marketplace – to have a union voice at Kroger.”

The union contract negotiated between Kroger and UFCW Local 400 stipulates that in the event that Kroger closes a store, the company will transfer workers to another union store. Kroger Marketplace stores are non-union and do not offer the same pay or benefits guaranteed by the union contract.

“The High Street Kroger workers are members of the Portsmouth community. They are our friends and neighbors,” said James Boyd, President of the Portsmouth branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “We are out here today because we believe that good jobs are essential to the strength of this community. We want Kroger to be a partner in strengthening our community by keeping good jobs and loyal employees in Portsmouth.”

View footage of the protest by WAVY Channel 10 News.

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Local 400 Member Writes Op-Ed About Kroger’s New Anti-Union Direction

10153899_753063741381197_2612718722607377983_nLaverne Wrenn, a Local 400 member who works at a Kroger in Portsmouth, Virginia, wrote an op-ed this weekend that was published in the Virginian-Pilot.

In her op-ed, Laverne discusses how she and her co-workers have been preparing for the upcoming closure of her store. She says it will be hard to say goodbye to the customers whom she has known and served for 17 years, but what’s worse is that she and her coworkers will lose their jobs unless they are able to make a 50-mile, round-trip commute to the nearest unionized Kroger store in Yorktown, Virginia.

Putting these dedicated Kroger employees in this situation is irresponsible and unfair. Laverne says that she and her coworkers are active members of their Portsmouth community, and understandably many do not want to leave their communities, or they simply can’t.

Lavern’s coworker Nick, who has special needs, has been a fixture in their store where he scans and bags groceries, thanks to his “open smile and dedication” to the neighbors who shop in their store. On his days off, Nick volunteers with the Portsmouth Fire Department. Nick’s parents, who live nearby the Kroger, have been able to drive him to work for the last 16 years.

By closing their unionized workplace, Kroger is hurting workers like Laverne, Nick, and another employee who can’t drive due to medical reasons. Driving 50 miles twice a day is out of the question for many commuters, and impossible for those who can’t drive themselves. So although Kroger has a legal obligation to transfer their employees to other stores, they are essentially forcing many of these hard workers to quit.

Laverne writes:

“All of us who work in the High Street store are members of the Portsmouth community. We live here and send our children to the neighborhood schools. Many of my co-workers walk or take the bus to work; they do not own a car. We have built our lives around this store and this community. But now Kroger is giving us just one month’s notice to transfer to a store 25 miles away or lose our jobs.

Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. This false choice – commute or quit – was never a part of our contract.”

There are two other Kroger stores in the Portsmouth area, however Kroger opened them under their Marketplace brand, as non-union. These non-union stores do not offer the types of jobs that Laverne and her coworkers have under their union-contract. “For a job with union wages, pension benefits and a voice on the job, the stores in Yorktown and Virginia Beach are the only options,” wrote Laverne.

Laverne’s op-ed conveys a shift in what Kroger stands for. What Laverne used to believe was a company that stood for good jobs, is not a company that is “deliberately expanding its non-union stores by acquiring Harris Teeter, building non-union Kroger Marketplaces and then pushing loyal union workers” out of town.

It is the workers who are supposed to have the right to choose whether or not they have union representation–not the company. Kroger needs to respect choice its Portsmouth workers made when they chose to be union members. Laverne urges all employees working at stores under the Kroger banner to fight for representation, to stop things like this from happening: “It is time for all Kroger Marketplace workers to make that choice. Together, we can keep good jobs and good workers in Portsmouth and strengthen our local economy.”

UFCW Local 400 Kroger Members Working at Kroger Ratify A New Contract

kroger for blogMembers of UFCW Local 400 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new, four-year contract with Kroger in the Richmond and Tidewater areas of Virginia. The contract preserves their health and retirement security and increases their wages. The collective bargaining agreement is retroactive to August 3, 2014. It expires on August 4, 2018, and covers 3,500 workers.

The bargaining was difficult and lengthy, but after a sustained campaign of member activism, both on a regional and national level, UFCW 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.

“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. Kroger’s new Marketplace stores sell not just groceries but clothing and jewelry. In these new stores, Kroger is not giving employees the opportunity to have a voice at work free from 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. UFCW Local 400 leadership, Kroger members, and community activists hand delivered a letter 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.”

“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.”