By Katherine Feser
Source: Houston Chronicle
The union representing some 14,000 Houston-area Kroger workers ratified a contract after a two-years of negotiations that focused on wages and health care, spanning the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contract, which covers workers in 106 local stores and lasts through February 2024, will boost wages by up to $2.60 an hour through April 2023 and continue to provide affordable health insurance with $75 million in annual health care contributions from Kroger, the company said. Kroger will invest some $65 million in the wage package.
The company also said the agreement boosts starting wages and continues to provide secure, stable pension benefits.
“Kroger Houston Division is pleased our associates ratified the agreements and recognized our continued investment in their success,” said Laura Gump, president of Kroger’s regional president. “These agreements come after thoughtful and productive work by both the company and union bargaining committees. I want to thank our associates for not only supporting these agreements but for the amazing, friendly and caring service they provide to our customers every day. This is affirmation of our commitment to providing a competitive total benefits package for our associates.”
Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 455 were locked in contentious negotiations since the contract expired in April 2020, just as the pandemic began sweeping through the United States and the Houston area. Union members voted at least twice to authorize a strike, although union officials decided to continue negotiating terms of a contract.
Union officials praised the agreement and Kroger workers, for their determination to see difficult negotiations through.
“At the end of the day, we believe our essential workers should be able to work towards a better life for their families. This contract helps ensure that is possible,” said Brandon Hopkins, president of UFCW Local 455. “It was the resoluteness and strength of our hardworking UFCW members and the widespread support of Kroger customers across the Houston area that made this contract possible.”
Linda Rogers, a union steward, said the contract gives workers a voice in their health care and includes job protections for full time workers.
“It has been a very stressful two years fighting for this contract,” she said, “and I am glad that we got a deal ratified by our membership.”