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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Kroger settlement good for community



No one was looking forward to a Kroger strike. Not workers, consumers or stockholders. So it was good news when the Cincinnati-based grocer reached an agreement Saturday with its union, negotiating a three-year contract that couldn't have come at a more critical time.

With the busy holiday shopping season approaching, increased competition and the fact that Kroger still is reeling from strikes elsewhere earlier this year, another strike could have been devastating.

After a 16-hour marathon session Saturday, Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents 8,500 local workers reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

Kroger's impact on Northern Kentucky and the Cincinnati area is far-reaching, with 70 stores and thousands of workers who help support the region's economy. The union was prepared to walk and the company was ready to hire non-union workers and reassign managers to run the stores. Fortunately the two sides stepped back from the brink and reached a fair settlement that protects jobs and provides wage increases while keeping Kroger competitive.

Local 1099 had been upset over Kroger's proposed pay package and employee cost-sharing on health insurance. But those issues apparently have been resolved. Under Kroger's earlier proposal, full-time workers for the first time would have had to pay up to $15 a week for family coverage. Deductibles, co-payments for insurance and prescription drug co-payments also would have risen. The company had also sought to limit overtime.

The new agreement includes hourly wage increases and bonuses for workers, increased cost-sharing sharing between employees and the company and overtime provisions.

Earlier this year, a 141-day strike in California, and a brief strike that affected stores in parts of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, cost the company an estimated $228 million. Another strike would have been dire for Kroger, facing increased competition from non-unionized Wal-Mart and others.

The settlement is good for the company, workers and the economy of Greater Cincinnati.




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