This week, Kroger employees and UFCW Local 400 organizers were met with the new, hostile union-busting efforts of the company in Virginia Beach.
On Sunday, at the peak of the Thanksgiving shopping season, Kroger employees and Local 400 organizers greeted customers at a new Marketplace in Portsmouth. Customers could “spin the wheel” to win free prizes, including Thanksgiving turkeys. Moms and dads shopping with their children lined up to play for a chance to win and express their appreciation for Kroger associates.
Kroger’s response? They called the police.
The turkeys were purchased at Kroger, they were given away to customers for Thanksgiving, and yet, because it was a union-organized event, the company responded with extreme measures. This was just a taste of the new, anti-union Kroger.
To compete with Walmart – a company infamous for its poor treatment of associates and radical, harsh efforts to prevent employees from exercising their rights to form a union – Kroger seems to be adopting those same policies.
The company is opening new Walmart-style “Marketplace” stores, which are much larger than traditional Kroger stores and feature an expanded selection of non-grocery items. In Virginia, Kroger has opened five of these stores non-union in the Richmond-Tidewater area.
But unlike Walmart, three out of every four Kroger employees are already union members with legal contracts. To prevent employees from having those same protections at a new Marketplace, Kroger won’t allow union members to work there.
Shortly after opening these new Marketplace stores, the company closed a store in Portsmouth employing more than 100 people. But instead of transferring staff to one of the new Kroger Marketplace stores nearby, the company gave them two choices: commute to one of the old stores hours away from home, or lose your job.
“I felt betrayed,” said one member at the time. Many people lost their jobs. Those that stayed on are struggling now. Felecia Mayes worked as a cashier in Portsmouth for 17 years, and now she has to take three buses and a light rail to Norfolk to get to work everyday. It takes her three hours to get home even though there are newer Marketplace stores just miles away from where she lives.
Meanwhile, the company spreads misinformation and anti-union messages to associates. Whereas some store managers used to tell associates about Kroger’s positive relationship with the union, now, they tell employees to be afraid and keep silent.
On Monday, Kroger called the police yet again on Local 400 staff, this time for talking to associates inside the Marketplace store in Virginia Beach. Despite a collective bargaining agreement with clear language giving union staff access to the stores to talk to employees about joining the union, Kroger management ordered Local 400 organizers out of the store. They then called the Virginia Beach Police Department and had them escort the organizers out of the store in full view of frightened and intimidated Kroger associates and customers.
This is not the way to beat Walmart. Kroger can be better. As a union, we want Kroger to be the best company it can be. We want it to be a good place to shop and a great place to work. But to beat Walmart, Kroger should not become Walmart.