CHARLESTON — Months of negotiations could be about to bear fruit, as representatives for United Food and Commercial Workers 400 and Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division have reached a tentative agreement.
Details of the deal won’t be fully divulged until the UFCW Local 400 membership has had a chance to review it. Union leaders, however, did say the potential contract does address key issues that have stymied negotiations for months.
That includes fully funded health care for associates over the life of the contract, as well as a program to reduce drug costs for associates with diabetes. They said various pay raises are also part of the potential contract.
The company’s latest proposal was presented last week and then forwarded to Local 400’s seven-person bargaining advisory committee, which agreed to send it to the membership for a vote. Details of the offer will be presented this week via a virtual town hall conference, followed by in-store voting Thursday and Friday. Votes will be tallied Saturday via Zoom.
“We stood up to corporate and won,” said Carolyn Devitt, a 42-year employee at Kroger’s Ashton Place store and a member of the bargaining advisory committee. “After months on the front lines of a pandemic, after already taking away our hero pay, they wanted to gut our health care, too. We weren’t having any of it. We stuck together and they knew they had to back down. I’m proud of my union.”
The tentative agreement is the latest development in collective bargaining talks that began in the summer between the regional union and the national grocery chain. It also comes one week after the union decisively turned down Kroger’s previous proposal and overwhelmingly agreed to strike if it didn’t receive a better offer.
While Local 400 had yet to establish a firm deadline for beginning a possible work stoppage, earlier this month Kroger began taking precautionary steps by placing ads in stores and online for replacement workers in the event of a strike. Kroger has 40 stores employing more than 4,200 workers in West Virginia. The last work stoppage at stores in the Mountain State was a two-month strike in 2003.
“Given the unique circumstances everyone is experiencing in today’s world,” Kroger Mid-Atlantic president Paula Ginnett said, “the Kroger Mid-Atlantic and UFCW Local 400 bargaining committees worked virtually and diligently to create an agreement that provides our associates with a solid compensation package of wages and benefits. Focusing on solutions — together — was the key in reaching this agreement.”