Thursday, September 21, 2000

Kroger employees vote to strike

Associated Press Writer

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thousands of Kroger employees overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer Wednesday and voted to authorize a strike after negotiations between their union and the company fell apart.

        The contract between Local 1059 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. expired Saturday. Union officials said they've been negotiating new contract terms since July.

        The local represents 12,000 workers in 77 Kroger stores and one warehouse in an area that covers approximately the southeast quarter of Ohio.

        About 98 percent off the estimated 3,800 employees who voted Wednesday rejected the Kroger's latest contract offer and agreed to go on strike if an agreement is not reached by midnight Thursday, said Paul Smithberger, spokesman for Local 1059.

        He said both union and Kroger representatives planned to resume negotiations Thursday.

        “We think we sent the message that we'll go on strike, and we think they'll come back serious tomorrow,” Smithberger said.

        Local 1059 President Becky Berroyer said the company and the union disagree on wages, prescription drug coverage and pension issues, among other items. She said picket signs were printed and members were ready to walk.

        “People aren't angry, but they're frustrated and disappointed and they're ready to strike,” Berroyer said as voting took place in DiSalle Center at the state fairgrounds.

        Kevin Reynolds, of Mansfield, is head of the frozen foods department at the Worthington Mall Kroger in suburban Columbus. His wife, Stacy, also works for the company. Reynolds said he will be walking the picket lines if there's a strike, mainly because of the company's refusal to provide a prescription drug plan.

        “My wife had two surgeries in February and none of the antibiotics or drugs were covered,” Reynolds said. “In the months of January, February and March, we paid about $500 a month for prescriptions.”

        Kroger spokesman Nick Rees says Kroger's compensation package is the best in the grocery industry but declined to say what the company has offered.

        “We are very confident, though, that there won't be a labor stoppage,” Rees said.

        Berroyer agreed that some Kroger employees — the 1,600 who have been with the company since before 1988 — have one of the industry's top compensation packages.

        “But that's 1,600 out of 12,000,” she said.

        Harveena Fenton, one of those longtime employees, said she drove two hours from Portsmouth on her day off to vote in favor of a strike.

        “I've been at the same store for 27 years and I have insurance and prescriptions. But we need to look out for the young workers because someone looked out for us,” she said.

        A message seeking comment on the union's vote was left with Kroger on Wednesday night.


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