With COVID-19 cases spiking once again in Oregon, nearly 10,000 grocery workers at Kroger banners, including Fred Meyer and QFC, went on strike today to protest hazard pay cuts implemented at those stores nearly 18 months ago, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said.
Fred Meyer and QFC parent company Kroger have been in contract negotiations since July 2021 with UFCW Local 555. The union’s membership voted on Dec. 11 to authorize a potential strike.
“Fred Meyer and QFC’s continual disregard for the rules protecting their employees have left members of UFCW Local 555 with no choice but to take action. All over the country, essential workers are standing up and demanding to be treated fairly,” said UFCW Local 55 Communications Coordinator Miles Eshaia in a statement. “And after facing the pandemic head on, communities are standing with those who stood and risked infection to feed the communities in which they live.”
Earlier this week The Kroger Co. announced that beginning Jan. 1, it will eliminate some benefits for unvaccinated workers as the grocery chain tries to get more of its workforce vaccinated. Unvaccinated workers will see a $50 monthly surcharge for their company health plan and will no longer be eligible to receive up to two weeks of paid emergency leave if they become infected, which was put in place when vaccines were unavailable, a company spokesperson confirmed to news outlets. The UFCW has not indicated whether the surcharge played a role in prompting today’s strike.
Kroger communications suggest the banners—at least on a corporate level—are not supportive of the strike.
In a statement issued by Kroger on Dec. 17, the Cincinnati-based grocer said: “Today, Fred Meyer and QFC called the decision by UFCW Local 555 to strike our Portland, Bend, Newburg and Klamath Falls stores ‘reckless’ and urges Local 555 to consider the full implications for its members heading into the holiday season.”
“At a time when we want to invest more than ever in wage increases and affordable healthcare, the UFCW has chosen disruption and the unknown for our associates and their families,” said Dennis Gibson, president of Fred Meyer, in a statement. “We value our associates and thank them for what they do every day for each other and our customers. We are committed to serving our customers, and our stores are open and stocked with fresh food and household essentials.”
In Kroger’s latest contract proposal for Oregon grocery workers, the company has proposed a 50-cent raise per hour for long-term employees over the next two years, and a 40-cent raise per hour on the third year of the contract, according to the UFCW.
Of the latest contract proposal, Kroger said Fred Meyer and QFC’s proposed total investment for its more than 5,000 associates covered under the contract includes a $36 million investment in additional wages; $30 million in annual contributions for healthcare benefits; and a $5 million pension investment for retirement.
“Our offer respects our associates by significantly investing in their compensation,” added Gibson. “This includes a $36 million investment in pay raises, healthcare coverage and a stable retirement—while keeping groceries affordable. We have put forward an offer that invests in the whole person with a benefits package that includes market competitive wages, healthcare, a pension for retirement, and on-demand access mental health assistance, career advancement opportunities, industry-leading tuition assistance, scholarships, volunteer opportunities, grocery discounts and other perks and rewards.”
In a release announcing its Fred Meyer and QFC stores would remain open for business during the strike, Kroger offered additional details on its investment in its Oregon workers.
The average hourly wage for an Oregon associate is $17.29 an hour, Gibson said. Add in the company’s healthcare and retirement packages, and the average total compensation is $22 an hour. Eligible Fred Meyer and QFC associates pay $10 for individual healthcare coverage or $25 for family coverage per week. By comparison, the Oregon average per week for individual coverage is $21 and $117 for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Gibson noted.
“While we respect our associates’ rights to participate in this work stoppage, any associate who chooses to continue to work is welcome,” said Gibson. “We remain open to continuing to meet with the UFCW. Our associates would be better served if the UFCW worked with us to reach an agreement that does not leave our associates without a paycheck during the holidays.”