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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Kroger Co. suspended negotiations with striking union workers Saturday after four bargaining sessions failed to produce an agreement, The Associated Press reports.
Some 3,300 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio have been on strike against the Cincinnati-based grocer since Oct. 13.
"Although we feel like the differences between us are narrower than they once were, the health care issue remains an obstacle that we have not been able to overcome," said Archie Fralin, a Kroger spokesman in Roanoke, Va.
The company has closed 44 stores in the region, and Fralin said they would remain closed until a resolution is found. Both sides have said they anticipate a long strike.
Kroger employees have been picketing since their union voted down a proposed contract in which the company would raise its contribution to an employee health fund by 8 percent.
In other related news, about 4,000 union workers at Kroger supermarkets across Indiana probably will strike after voting overwhelmingly Friday to reject a five-year contract offer from Kroger.
Kroger said Friday it has offered members of the UFCW Local 700 a four-year contract that includes more than $30 million in wage increases and pension contributions, as well as an offer to pay increased health care costs.
Union members are seeking a new labor contract that fully covers increased health care costs, continues to grant full pensions to retirees at age 60, and provides bigger raises for new hires, according to local reports.