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By Adam Zuvanich

Source: Houston Public Media

Thousands of Houston-area Kroger employees are slated to vote over the next two weeks on proposed contracts between the grocery store chain and the union representing local workers.

A tentative agreement on three-year deals for Kroger’s retail clerks as well as its meat department workers was reached last weekend, according to the company and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 455, which represents 13,000-plus employees at more than 100 stores in the region. Union members will vote on the proposals from Thursday through March 12, with voting taking place in the breakrooms at the locations where they work.

The proposed contracts include wage increases for all Kroger employees, a 40% reduction in their health insurance premiums and a reduction in the minimum-hours requirements to qualify for healthcare coverage, according to a letter to members written by Local 455 president Brandon Hopkins and the union’s bargaining committee.

“(The agreement) is a strong package that rewards your hard work,” the letter states. “It also returns many items that were taken from the membership during the last contract fight. … Your pension is secure and your bargaining committee was successful in negotiating a ratification bonus, if the (agreement) is accepted by the membership.”

Further details about the proposed contracts were not revealed in the Sunday letter by Hopkins, who did not immediately respond to a Wednesday message seeking comment. Kroger’s Houston division said in a statement that additional details would be shared once the proposed agreements are ratified.

In a statement posted to a company website on Saturday, Kroger called the agreements “great news” while encouraging employees to vote to approve them.

“The agreement recognizes our associates for their hard work by delivering significant wage increases, maintaining affordable health care and providing a pension for retirement,” Kroger said in a statement Wednesday.

The Cincinnati-based grocer publicized an offer to the union on Feb. 7, saying it was prepared to give workers hourly wage increases of nearly 5-7% through the life of a two-year contract. It was not clear Wednesday whether such increases are part of the agreements reached last weekend, which are for three years.

Hopkins told Houston Public Media in January, when the union was considering the possibility of a strike, that the two-year agreement that ended up expiring Feb. 24 required employees to work at least 27 hours per week to qualify for healthcare coverage from Kroger. The threshold under the previous agreement was 20 hours per week.

Regarding the new agreements up for a vote by union members, Hopkins wrote in his letter, “We are very proud of the work that was done by your bargaining committee to get the kind of package you now have to vote on and also very proud of the work our membership did, standing up and demanding a fair contract.”

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