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Published: Saturday, 6/23/2007

Kroger workers to vote on contract offer

BY MARK REITER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

After meeting with Kroger Co. negotiators nearly two dozen times over four months, union employees finally have a contract offer that they can vote on.

But United Food & Commercial Workers Local 911 is recommending that members reject the three-year proposal. The local represents 3,200 meat cutters, cashiers, and stockers at 28 stores throughout northwest Ohio.

Local President Jeff Stephens said yesterday that salary increases in the three-year package would be offset by additional health-insurance costs.

"We just don't think the contract offer is sufficient to protect members' standard of living for the next three years," he said.

According to the union Web site, the "concessionary" offer from the Kroger supermarket chain would equate to employees suffering a 17 percent reduction in benefits and would include health-care deductions of up to $15 weekly for single coverage and $100 monthly for the spouses of employees.

The union has scheduled membership meetings for July 2 to give local Kroger employees a chance to vote on the offer. Mr. Stephens said if the proposal is rejected, members will be asked to authorize a strike or take other economic action.

Similar steps were taken in May by the members when they authorized a strike and economic action after the company failed to give them a contract offer.

The economic action could be in the form of a boycott or informational picketing. It would be taken "pretty much immediately," Mr. Stephens said.

The contract offer emerged Thursday night after daylong talks between union and Kroger representatives with a federal mediator.

It was the 22nd session between the two sides since talks began in late February.

Employees have worked without a contract since April 7 but agreed to extensions while talks continued.

Dale Hollandsworth, a Kroger spokesman in Columbus, said the offer would provide competitive wages and benefits to employees, whose salaries range from $6.85 an hour for part-time starting cashiers to $18.50 an hour for meat cutters.

"We are asking the workers to consider the offer very carefully, and we are urging them to ratify it," he said.

Another sticking point in the contract proposal is language that would allow vendor stocking, which the union fears could lead to the outsourcing of jobs at stores, Mr. Stephens said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6096.



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