Beginning work at Kroger at age 17 in 1969 in Indiana, Mike says he decided to work there because it was “a good outfit” which paid a good wage and provided benefits. Back then, he says, everyone got raises once a year, and from 1968 to 2003, “I never paid a dime for medical” or healthcare.
In 1970, Mike joined the army reserve and was on active duty while still working for Kroger–which he did for over 20 years.
Under his union contract in 1983, Mike reflects that he and his coworkers were making over $10 and hour, had ten personal days, and some even had six weeks vacation. Then Mike was out on army leave for three years. When he returned, things in the store were not as good as they had been previously, and eventually Indiana became a Right to Work state, making Kroger one of the only union grocery stores in the state. “In Indiana,” he says, “if you’re hurt on the job, your employer will pay your medical bills but once you are able to come back to work they can fire you.”
However, it’s being a union member, Mike says, that ensured his job remained a good one throughout the years, and keeps jobs protected: “The UFCW fighting for us was what got us back.”
When Mike’s former manager gave him a hard time about getting weekends off for when he had army reserve training and drilling, which is a federally protected right, Mike stood up to him, knowing that the union was behind him. Nevertheless, the manager still tried to fire him for not being at the store when he had to fulfill his duty with the reserves. So, Mike filed an official grievance with the union. Mike’s UFCW Local stood with him and helped him ensure that his rights as a union member and army reservist, as well as his job, were protected.
Mike also says that being a union member helped him win justice when he was wrongfully accused of stealing cigarettes from the store by a manager, and was told he was fired. When Mike, the union, and management met to settle the dispute, it turned out that the store had scheduled a week of vacation for Mike’s coworker, who had witnessed him paying for the cigarettes, so that he would not be able to vouch for Mike’s innocence at the meeting. But the union backed Mike up in proving management wrong, and Mike not only was rightfully able to keep his job, but the manager was transferred to another store.
“I’m glad the UFCW had my back for all those years because there were managers who didn’t want to obey labor laws and thought our contracts were a floor mat,” he says, looking back at these experiences. “I was lucky to have good representation and make good friends.”
Now that he’s retired, Mike still follows the union lifestyle by telling all his family and friends to buy union. He also supports Walmart workers and other workers fighting to make their jobs better. As a vet, Mike finds it upsetting that Walmart has been said to change the job titles of workers who are out on military leave, so that when they return they don’t have to keep them at the same position of level of pay that they were before they left.
Mike also enjoys doing polar plunges with his family and volunteering for the state’s plane pull each year, all in order to raise money for the Special Olympics. He also manages to find time to lobby on Capital Hill with a charity group called American Veterans, which he has helped raise money for now for many years.
“It’s all about trying to pay it forward,” Mike says. That’s why he wants younger new hires at Kroger, or any workplace, to get involved with the union and be proactive. Educating people about what being a union member is can help ensure that they aren’t taken advantage of at work, Mike says.
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