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Published: Friday, 3/29/2013

Unions ask for Kroger boycott

Trades appeal to shoppers, cite use of out-of-state contractors

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A Kroger spokesman said a local electrical union is involved in the work at the Kroger store under construction in Lambertville, Mich. A Kroger spokesman said a local electrical union is involved in the work at the Kroger store under construction in Lambertville, Mich.
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The Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council on Thursday began asking area consumers to boycott local Kroger Co. stores in response to the supermarket retailer’s decision to use out-of-state building contractors and workers for construction and remodeling work on some of its area stores, including a store being built in Maumee.

John Schlagheck, executive secretary and business manager for the construction trades council, which represents 17 area building trades unions, said the call for a boycott is not about union members getting work at Kroger projects, although that would be good news.

“It’s about keeping everything local,” he said. “We’re saying, hire the people that are your customers, that’s the best policy.”

Kroger has reached out to the building trades council to see if the issue can be resolved, both sides said Thursday.

Mr. Schlagheck said there are many union and nonunion contractors in the Toledo area that need work.

Hiring either type would be preferable to bringing in out-of-state contractors, which he said Kroger has done for the Maumee project on Reynolds Road near Dussel Drive, and for other projects.

“Hire the locals. All these contractors around here, they need the work too,” Mr. Schlagheck said.

Mr. Schlagheck said the building and construction trades council had hoped that much, if not all, of the work on the Maumee project and the recent expansion of the Kroger store in Lambertville would go to local contractors and construction workers, but such was not the case.

The general contractor for the Maumee project is F.H. Martin Constructors, of Warren, Mich.

On Tuesday, council leaders decided to call for a local boycott of Kroger, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati, by placing a large ad in The Blade and having some union members hand out information about the council’s position at various area Kroger stores.

Jackie Siekmann, a Kroger Co. spokesman in Columbus, said the company has no problem with using local contractors or their workers, but it uses a competitive bid process for its construction projects. Ms. Siekmann said several Toledo area firms made bids for area work — including the Maumee project — but they were not the winning bidders.

“The award for work was based on price, quality, and performance, and in many cases the winners do use local workers,” she said.

“In fact we have used four local unionized contractors in the Toledo area on projects. But those contractors’ bids were not the most competitive this time.

“However, we encourage our general contractors to use union workers whenever possible,” the Kroger spokesman said.

Even though a local general contractor was not chosen to oversee the Maumee project, Ms. Siekmann said half of the labor on the project will consist of local hires, and some of those workers will be building trades members. Also, she said, a local electrical workers union is doing work on the Lambertville project, although she could not identify the union.

The retailer has used union labor for most of its projects in Ohio. Statewide, its stores are organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Mr. Schlagheck said the building trades are hopeful that Kroger will reverse its position on selecting the lowest bidder for its projects and look more toward local contractors who are competitive but maybe not the lowest bid.

“There are people laid off here, but they will be using people coming in from out of town. … For years and years we’ve always done this type of work for them and worked with them, but now they’re using the lowest bid. We don’t know if it’s a corporate change or what,” Mr. Schlagheck said.

“There’s more projects coming up, and we’d prefer they do it the way they used to bid instead of using a race to the bottom line,” he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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