The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said this week that members voted “overwhelmingly” to ratify a new national contract with The Kroger Co.
The five-year master agreement, covering more than 1,500 Kroger workers nationwide, was approved late Monday by 88% of voting members, Teamsters reported. For the first time, the national negotiating committee included rank-and-file members who work in the industry, and they played a pivotal role at the bargaining table, the trucking union noted.
“Thanks to coordinated bargaining as well as the input and participation of rank-and-file members, we were able to win the most-lucrative deal in the history of the national contract at Kroger,” Tom Erickson, director of the Teamsters warehouse division, said in a statement.
Teamsters said the new Kroger contract brings “significant improvements” to wages, benefits and working conditions.
“After months of hard-fought bargaining, we’re so excited to announce that we have ratified a new contract that will improve the working conditions of all Kroger Teamsters and put more money in workers’ pockets,” said Aaron Washington, an order selector at Kroger and union steward for Teamsters Local 667 in Memphis, who participated in contract talks.
Cincinnati-based Kroger couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The nation’s largest supermarket retailer, the company operates 2,723 stores in 35 states under such banners as Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, King Soopers, Fry’s, QFC, City Market, Owen’s, Jay C, Pay Less, Baker’s, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, Pick N’ Save, Metro Market, Mariano’s, Fred Meyer, and Food 4 Less/Foods Co.
Teamsters said all five local supplemental agreements also were ratified, with the pacts addressing members’ chief priorities. Besides Local 667, the Teamsters unions covered by the contracts include Teamsters Local 135 in Indianapolis, Teamsters Local 337 in Detroit, Teamsters Local 988 in Houston and Teamsters Local 795 in Wichita, Kansas.
“The success of this contract was made possible because of the new approach to bargaining,” stated James E. Jones Jr., president of Teamsters Local 667. “We intended for this contract to set the standard for warehouse workers and drivers in the Memphis-area grocery market, and we succeeded with the support of every local working together in a coordinated fashion.”
The nationwide agreement for the Kroger Teamsters comes a month after the union landed a new master contract with another big retailer, Costco Wholesale. Covering over 18,000 Costco workers coast to coast, the pact—approved by 72% of voting members—provides significant wage gains over the next three years plus a “substantial increase” in Costco’s pension contributions, Teamsters said. The contract also brings higher semi-annual bonuses and a more flexible attendance policy, among other workplace improvements.
Looking ahead, Teamsters will be keeping a close watch on the $24.6 billion merger deal between Kroger and Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, which would join the first- and second-largest U.S. supermarket operators upon approval. Combined, the two retailers currently have 4,996 stores, 3,972 pharmacies, 66 distribution centers, 52 manufacturing plants, 2,015 fuel centers and more than 710,000 associates across 48 states and the District of Columbia.
For union workers, the merger would mean a more formidable party at the other side of the bargaining table come contract time. Store divestitures and the integration of two huge companies also could result in job cuts.
“The proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons will have serious implications for the more than 18,000 Teamsters employed at both companies and is another example of why real antitrust reform is needed. Historically, mergers of this magnitude have a negative impact on workers and the public. Less competition almost always means higher prices and fewer choices,” Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien stated when the merger agreement was announced Oct. 14.
Kroger and Albertsons said they expect the transaction to close in early 2024, pending regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions. However, industry observers said that process likely will take much longer, possibly up to two years. Wall Street analysts also noted that unions will play a key role as Kroger-Albertsons works with regulators to get a deal done.
“We will be monitoring developments as the regulatory process plays out. There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be addressed,” O’Brien said. “Our concerns are shared among workers, customers, elected officials, shareholders, consumer advocates and the general public. We fully stand with our members and will oppose any merger that threatens jobs or weakens working conditions. These essential workers keep the nation fed, and they must be considered first and foremost throughout every step of this process.”