Friday, November 2, 2007

Kroger Avoids Cincinnati Region Strike

Kroger Avoids Cincinnati Region Strike

CINCINNATI (AP) — A union representing nearly 11,000 grocery workers says its tentative three-year contract with Kroger Co. provides employees with quality health insurance, wage increases and no benefits cuts.

The agreement, announced late Thursday, avoided a last-minute strike at 79 stores in the Cincinnati region. Kroger, the nation's largest traditional grocer, hasn't had a strike in its hometown since 1971.

The tentative contract must be approved by the union's membership, and voting could begin next week, said Brigid Kelly, a spokeswoman for Local 1099 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

The union last month authorized its leaders to call a strike. They continued working under a contract extension that was scheduled to end at midnight Thursday.

Kroger officials and union leaders met for most of the day after a federal mediator set up new talks.

Both sides had made preparations for a strike. Kroger had said it would use managers and temporary workers to keep operating the affected stores in southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana.

"From our perspective, the agreement is good news for our employees and customers, and we are looking forward to seeing our employees in our stores Friday," said Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn.

Kroger also settled contracts this year in other regions including Southern California, Michigan and Texas without a work stoppage.

The company, which grew from a single downtown Cincinnati grocery in the late 19th century, has continued to dominate the local market, even as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has ringed the city with nonunion Supercenters in the past two years.

Other competitors — such as Supervalu Inc.'s bigg's, Midwest regional chain Meijer Inc. and various specialty food chains — also have increased their presence.

During negotiations, Kroger said it offers industry-leading compensation to employees in a highly competitive region.

The union said Kroger's workers have been key players in the company's growth and should share in its financial success. It had complained that Kroger wasn't fully funding pension and health care plans and offered subpar wage increases.

Pay raises in a proposal rejected last month ranged from 10 cents an hour for baggers to 95 cents an hour for department heads. Under that proposal, a top-rated clerk's pay would have increased 85 cents an hour to $15.46 an hour.

Kroger, which had $66.1 billion in sales last year, operates 2,491 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states under two dozen local banners, including Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less, King Soopers, Smith's, Fry's, Dillons, QFC and City Market

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