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CINCINNATI - With the latest round of bargaining sessions stalled between The Kroger Co. here and the labor union representing some 10,000 of the chain's workforce, leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1099 said in an email alert that negotiations had broken off, and that it was revoking a contract extension set to expire Saturday at midnight.
The action means the union can now authorize a strike anytime after this Friday. Meanwhile, Kroger said it is preparing to recruit temporary workers should a strike occur.
The latest member email alert by the UFCW Local 1099 - which represents workers in most of western and all of southwestern Ohio, all of northern Kentucky south to Lexington, and part of southeast Indiana - decried what it said was Kroger's stance to not increase prescription drug coverage for members, and its failure to fully contribute to a pension fund beyond three years.
"In spite of focusing on give and take in bargaining, the company has instead adopted a philosophy of take, and take more, expecting workers to gamble with their futures," said the union in its latest email alert. It went on to say that "the company's risky health care scheme leaves workers at risk for future benefit cuts and could result in a substantial deficit in the fund that pays for health care claims."
Kroger, meanwhile, expressed optimism that an agreement would be found. "Recent progress shows that we can reach an agreement by staying at the table," Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn told Progressive Grocer. "In fact, Kroger and the UFCW have stayed at the table - often well beyond contract expiration - to successfully reach agreements in more than 250 contracts since our current contract in Cincinnati was ratified in 2004. We hope to do the same here."
In local press reports, Glynn was quoted as saying that the chain would also hire replacement workers should a strike commence. "Because of the union actions we are preparing to recruit temporary workers," Glynn was quoted as saying. "Plans are in place for a variety of scenarios. It's unfortunate that it's coming to this. We'll do what we need to do to serve our customers."
The union said it is planning a rally on Fountain Square today at 5:30 p.m.
The contract between Kroger and UFCW Local 1099 expired on Oct. 6, and bargaining began Aug. 29. A contract extension expires Nov. 3 at midnight. At that time, the extension could be re-extended, or workers could initiate a labor strike.
At press time, no future bargaining dates between the union and the retailer were scheduled.