Workers vote to strike at Kroger stores in Kentucky, Ohio, W.Va.

Monday, October 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Grocery workers at Kroger stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky voted to strike at midnight Monday _ just days after Kroger clerks walked out in Southern California.

More than 2,000 members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 approved a strike _ rejecting the company's contract offer, union officials said.

A Kroger spokesman said the company planned to close the stores at midnight Monday; only its pharmacies will stay open.

``The proposal doesn't provide enough money to pay for our benefits,'' union president Jim Lowthers said. ``They ought to be providing for the families that helped earn that money.''

The union represents about 3,300 workers for the Cincinnati-based chain in 37 stores in West Virginia, five in Ohio and two in Kentucky. Kroger is West Virginia's fourth-largest employer, with about 5,100 employees statewide.

Clerks at Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Pavilions walked out late Saurday in Los Angeles, along with two other major supermarket chains. Replacement workers were hired there.

In Missouri, about 10,000 United Food & Commercial Workers members have been on strike at the St. Louis area's three largest chain grocers since last Tuesday. The 96 stores affected by the dispute have hired temporary workers and cut back hours as a result of the strike. The biggest sticking points are medical costs and pay raises.

Kroger proposed an 8 percent, or $9 million, increase for workers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, in what it pays into a health and welfare fund administered by a third party.

An independent actuary determined the fund needs an additional $29 million, Lowthers said.

The company's offer also included hourly pay raises this year and in 2005, along with lump-sum payments of $300-$500 in 2004 and 2006; and an increase in the number of full-time employees.

Pete Williams, president of Kroger's Mid-Atlantic region, wrote a letter to employees saying the company offers generous benefits compared to nonunion grocers such as Wal-Mart ``who want our business and want your jobs.''

Kroger made $542 million in profits through the end of August, down $27 million from 2002.