Kroger employees have been voicing concerns about working during the pandemic and are taking issue with their benefits and safety.

Front line workers including grocery store employees have been depended upon all throughout the pandemic. Friday, after disputes with corporate leaders, UFCW Local 400 union voted 1551-130 to reject a contract offer from Kroger, and voted 1,490-199 to approve a strike.

“When somebody walks through that door and they don’t have a mask on, whether they have COVID or not — you’re exposed to it daily,” Carolyn Devitt, a 42-year Kroger employee in Charleston, said.

Devitt said due to her long time with the company, she is not included in the group that is getting pay raises. She has been concerned for her health due to COVID-19, but feels employees are put in a tough position.

“There’s a lot of employees who do not want to come to work because of that but they have to because they have to live,” she said.

In the contract offer: raises for employees, with some as high as $4.65 per hour over the life of the contract.

Kroger proposed spending $99 million on health care over the three-year contract, and a cost increase in 2022.

“It isn’t changing the healthcare, it’s simply asking the associates to take a rate change in what they pay weekly,” Kroger Mid-Atlantic Division President Paula Ginnett said.

Devitt said while the insurance premium will not go above 10% in the first two years of the contract, she fears what will happen once the pandemic ends, and health care costs go up.

“They’re looking at paying $180 a month, not $80,” Devitt said. “It’s a decision – do I feed myself or do I pay for my medication?”

In a statement, Kroger corporate affairs says they are “disappointed” that the offer was not accepted:

We are disappointed that our Comprehensive Best Offer to Settle was not accepted. We remain committed to reaching an agreement. We have told union leaders we remain ready and willing to meet in additional negotiations sessions to see how we might resolve any outstanding issues.

It’s business as usual at Kroger. Associates are continuing to report to work as scheduled. A strike authorization doesn’t mean a strike. At this point, the union has not called for a work stoppage. Our focus remains on our associates and recognizing and rewarding them for their hard work.

The company also provided a web page to “Setting the Record Straight” about the contract.

A strike has been authorized, but not planned.

“Next steps would be that we would be going back to the UFCW and the UFCW would be coming back to us and we will continue a dialogue. The reality is no one wins in a strike,” Ginnett said.

If there is a strike, Ginnett said they plan to keep stores operating.

“Our stores are currently open, and our commitment is we want our stores to remain open. We’re not at the point where we’re there yet. I don’t want to speculate on something that really isn’t where the situation is currently,” Ginnett said.

Source: WCHS TV