Originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 63, printed October 29. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
Despite record sales growth amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, along with a rising number of confirmed cases among store workers, the grocery chain Kroger is proposing to cut health care benefits for thousands of employees in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
In response, outraged Kroger union members and their community supporters have been holding weekly protests at multiple locations in these three states.
“Essential workers at Kroger have risked their lives and the lives of their families to operate these stores during this pandemic, and they continue to do so,” said Mark Federici, President of UFCW Local 400, the union representing the workers. “While other businesses have shuttered as a result of this pandemic, Kroger is making more money than ever. But instead of sharing this success with the workers who have risked their lives to make it possible, Kroger is greedily threatening to slash their health care benefits.”
In addition to slashing health care benefits, and after eliminating so-called “hero pay” earlier this year, Kroger is also proposing to eliminate raises and seniority rights for the most experienced store workers.
“Some of these associates have been with the company for more than 40 years,” Federici said. “They didn’t sign up to be first responders during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what they’ve become. They deserve to be rewarded, not punished, for their service.”
Most Kroger stores in Virginia are also unionized by Local 400. Virginia workers come under a different contract and – so far – are not affected by the threatened cuts. However, a weaker contract in other states can make it harder to keep stronger contracts elsewhere. The union also represents workers at Giant, Shoppers and Safeway grocery stores in Northern Virginia.
Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the United States and the second largest overall retailer, just behind Walmart.
UFCW Local 400 represents 35,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Categories: Our Working Lives