Indianapolis Kroger Management, Union Return to Table

INDIANAPOLIS - As The Kroger Co. and the union representing its Central Indiana butchers and clerks prepared to resume contract negotiations today, both sides made preparations for a strike, according to the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

Both sides hope to avert a strike similar to those already being staged by 75,000 Kroger workers in California, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. However, union members said on Wednesday they plan a "shock-and-awe" style walkout -- including possibly exposing "what Kroger has done to some of its workers" -- if agreements on new contract proposals for the grocery chain's Central Indiana employees fail to materialize by early Sunday.

About 4,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700 here will use "traditional and nontraditional" methods to show their resolve to management and customers of 58 Kroger stores statewide, Local 700 organizing director Rian Wathen said.

"We won't just be in front of grocery stores carrying picket signs," Wathen said. "We won't give away any specific plans. But our overall objective is to make customers understand that we don't want them to shop there until we all go back to work."

The union says the proposed contract limits health care benefits and wage increases for new hires and expands the time it takes to qualify for full pension benefits.

Kroger says the proposed contract boosts both pay and pension contributions while providing its employees a package superior to those at nonunion grocery chains.

Kroger spokesman Jeffrey L. Golc told the paper it was premature to discuss a strike and that company officials remain confident that a settlement will be reached. "If a strike occurs, our main goal is to continue to serve customers," Golc said. "We are working on contingency plans to make sure our stores stay open and to provide the products and services customers have come to expect. But we don't want a work stoppage of any kind and will work to make sure that doesn't happen."

To that end, the company has been seeking temporary workers through advertisements that began appearing Oct. 23. Kroger says it will pay up to $10 an hour for temporary workers. Unionized Kroger clerks earn a starting wage of $6.50 an hour. The highest-paid union clerks earn $12 an hour, with meat cutters earning slightly more.
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