By HUGH STEPHENSON

Union members in dozens of stores in and around Charleston, W.V., voted 1551 to 130 on Nov. 6 to reject Kroger’s latest contract offer and voted 1490 to 199 to authorize a strike. Negotiations between United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 and the Mid-Atlantic Division of Kroger Supermarkets are proceeding while the union prepares for a strike.

A similar vote was taken last week by UFCW Local 455 in Houston, Texas, where workers also authorized the union to call a strike.

Talks between Local 400 and Kroger have been ongoing since the summer. The original contract ratified in 2017 ended on Aug. 29.  A four-week extension ended at the end of September. Now, a day-to-day extension is in place.

Health care is central to workers’ demands. The union stated: “As we told Kroger time and time again, we fully expected members to reject a proposal that puts our health care at risk. By voting this down so overwhelmingly, we have sent a message to the company that we will not accept a substandard contract.”

At a time that grocery store workers are putting their lives at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kroger offers “thanks” to its workers by placing a cap on money the company is willing to pay to fund health care. As the union remarked: “After months of working on the front-lines of a global pandemic, after being rightly called “heroes” for our service, and after Kroger has made record profits while other businesses have suffered or closed, this is no time for Kroger to be cutting our benefits. We deserve to be rewarded, not punished, for our hard work.”

Rather than heed workers’ demands, Kroger is now accepting applications for replacement workers (scabs) if a strike happens. Kroger announced that at its supermarkets it would be “business as usual.” Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic Division operates hundreds of stores in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee and is headquartered in Roanoke, Va. Most employees are members of UFCW Local 400.

For further more information, including about future strike solidarity actions, UFCW Local 400’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/UFCW400.