Following weeks of demonstrations, Kroger store employees working at 39 stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky voted to approve a new union contract Monday.

The contract includes pay raises and preserves health care and retirement benefits, according to a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. The contract covers 4,200 associates working at 39 stores, including 34 stores in West Virginia, three in Ohio and two in Kentucky.

About 1,000 members of the union attended meetings in Charleston and Clarksburg Monday to vote. Jonathan Williams, spokesman for the union, said workers had voted more than two-to-one in favor of the contract.

“It’s pretty rare to not lose things these days,” Williams said. “These companies are getting much bigger and more powerful — a little bit more vicious in the things they want to take from their employees.

Just being able to maintain what we’ve had is a big deal. No one would say it’s enough, but it’s certainly a big deal when you look at the big picture.”

Jerry Clontz, president of Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division, said, in a statement: “We are pleased to reach an agreement that is good for our associates.

“This agreement comes after thoughtful and productive work by both the company and union bargaining committees,” he said. “I want to thank our associates for supporting this agreement and for the excellent service they provide to our customers every day.”

UFCW Local 400 had announced Friday it had reached a tentative contract agreement with Kroger. Kroger said it made the union an offer that included pay raises, kept health care spending the same and continued financial support to an employee pension fund.

Williams was still at Nathan Goff Armory in Clarksburg, where the second vote took place at 6 p.m.

“People are very excited here,” he said, apologizing for background noise while on the phone with a reporter.

The first vote took place at 9 a.m., at the Charleston Civic Center.

Contract negotiations between UFCW Local 400 and Kroger began in early September. The union had been holding demonstrations at several Kroger stores throughout West Virginia in recent weeks, including in Charleston, South Charleston, Beckley and Morgantown. In October, the workers launched the website BetterKroger.org.

“Our customers were overwhelmingly supportive and I think that helped a lot,” Allen Nuckels, a Kroger grocery clerk from Oak Hill, said in the release.

“I lost count of how many times someone saw us at a rally and stopped to ask me, ‘Are you guys on strike? Because I won’t cross a picket line!’”

“I cannot overstate how much the support of Kroger customers and the rest of the community made a difference in these negotiations,” Mark P. Federici, president of UFCW Local 400, said in a statement.

A team of five Kroger store employees led negotiations on behalf of the union.

The new contract takes effect immediately and extends through Aug. 29, 2020.

In 2003, West Virginia Kroger workers with the union went on a strike that lasted for two months. Union officials said health care costs had sharply increased. Federal mediators helped both sides reach an agreement.

Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail