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CINCINNATI -- With a new round of bargaining sessions beginning today and continuing through Sunday, the labor union representing some 10,000 Kroger Co. employees here intensified its efforts to put the heat on the retailer for contract concessions by circulating handbills outside stores and throughout the community.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union 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 -- have been standing at entrances to stores throughout the greater Cincinnati market, distributing information to customers regarding negotiations.
Union members also distributed handbills at recent area high school football games and prior to last Sunday's Cincinnati Bengals game, according to local press reports, which also said the union paid for an airplane to fly around downtown last Thursday and Friday with a banner reading "Share the Success," alleging that Kroger executives reap disproportionate compensation from the grocer's operations.
In an e-mail alert yesterday, the union said Kroger "has attempted to have workers arrested for hand billing in front of the stores, a right protected under Federal Labor Law. As a result of this and other violations of the National Labor Relations Act, Local 1099 will file Unfair Labor Practice charges" against the chain.
Last week, Geoff Covert, president of Kroger's Cincinnati/Dayton division, issued an e-mail to all local store associates pointing out that associates currently pay $15 a week for comprehensive family health coverage and $5 a week for individual coverage, while competitors' employees pay $58.23 a week for family coverage and $19.40 a week for individual coverage. "We have a significant competitive gap with Wal-Mart, Meijer, and others, and we can't allow the gap to get worse," Covert said in the e-mail.
The union is planning a rally on Fountain Square next Tues., Oct. 30, at 5:30 p.m.
The contract between Kroger and UFCW Local 1099 expired 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 decide to begin a strike.
In local reports Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn was quoted as saying: "Kroger and the UFCW have stayed at the table to successfully reach agreements in more than 250 contracts since our current contact was ratified in 2004. We can do the same in Cincinnati."