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    Kroger Says N.C. Strike Authorization Premature

    CINCINNATTI -- Despite a unanimous vote to authorize a strike among its unionized North Carolina employees, officials from The Kroger Co. here are still interested in settling the labor dispute, according to published reports.

    CINCINNATTI -- Despite a unanimous vote to authorize a strike among its unionized North Carolina employees, officials from The Kroger Co. here are still interested in settling the labor dispute, according to published reports.

    Working without a contract since July 20, roughly 650 employees who are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 204, voted earlier this week to authorize a strike if contract demands aren't met. The walkout would affect about 19 North Carolina Kroger stores

    In a statement, the company said it "has not made its final offer, so it is apparent that the strike authorization vote is premature. ... Kroger has been bargaining in good faith."

    Sticking points between the company and the union stem from a disagreement over the company's contributions to employees' health care fund and wage increases.

    "The employees in this union don't contribute to their health care at all," Lambert said, noting Kroger's position that the North Carolina employees should join employees from its other divisions who contribute to the cost of their health care. Lambert said the strike authorization vote does not mean a strike is imminent, but rather that union leadership can call a strike without additional votes. "Kroger has not made its final offer, so it's premature to have a strike authorization vote," said Lambert, adding that the chain wants to reach a settlement.

    Union spokesperson Jill Cashen was quoted as saying, "The latest proposal is on the table, and Kroger is not moving from it. Our members want our voices heard."

    In their last contract, workers bargained for corporate contributions to their health care fund. The UFCW claims that because local Kroger workers have remained relatively healthy in the last few years, there is now over $4 million in that fund --$4 million that is already invested for health care for workers and their families.

    The labor group said Kroger wants workers to pay an extra $1 million out of their own paychecks toward health care. Additional negotiations are scheduled for mid-August.

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