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Shop Steward Opens Her Home to Struggling Coworkers

Bernadette Hopkins-Christian (right) poses for a photo with fellow shop steward Christine Mitchell after both received awards in recognition of their service.

It was in the Winter of 2013. The weather was brutally cold and snow was on the ground. A young woman working in the salad bar at Giant #123 in Temple Hills, Md., had fallen on hard times and lost her home. Fortunately, her shop steward was Bernadette Hopkins-Christian.

“I walked up to her,” Bernadette said, “and asked, ‘Where are you going to stay tonight? It’s cold, you can’t stay outside.’ I told her she can stay at my home—we have an extra room in the basement with a bathroom. She lived with us for two and a half years. Now, she’s doing well. She has her own apartment with a friend and is back on her feet.”

Bernadette, who works as a cashier at Giant #123, wasn’t done with her extraordinary acts of generosity. When another co-worker found himself in a similar situation, she put him up in her Clinton, Md. home for a year.

Most recently, Bernadette opened her home to a third co-worker for a year and a half, before she was able to get housing and live independently.

“I take people in all the time,” Bernadette said. “We’ve lived in our house for 18 years and it’s only been just our family for one year. I have a very loving family and I commend them for putting up with my shenanigans. At one point, my son asked me to promise not to take in anyone else, and I said, ‘I can’t promise you that. If someone doesn’t have a place to go, I’m going to try to help them.’

“This is what my calling is,” she explained. “The family and friends we took in have their own places now and it feels good to know they’re doing well. It’s a blessing for them and for us. It’s just the right thing.”

Bernadette takes the same approach in her work as shop steward at Giant #123.

“They call me the Mama Bear in the building,” she said. “If someone’s hungry and doesn’t have enough food to eat, we’ll make sure someone buys them lunch. I take to heart being a steward. I care probably more than I should.

“We have a lot of new managers, so I spend a lot of time putting out fires,” Bernadette noted. “I give guidance and direction every day. I talk to members every day, especially new hires. We have to nurture them—we have to make sure they know what their rights are, what the policies are, what’s in the contract, because management won’t be telling them that.”

Bernadette has always been active in her union and was a member of the Contract Action Team during bargaining in 2016, organizing and participating in rallies and store actions. “It was exciting and very moving to be involved,” she said. “You don’t think people pay attention, but our customers sure did, because we are their families, too.”

In July, Bernadette traveled to Norfolk to speak at a rally for Kroger members whose store was threatened due to the company’s purchase of the Fresh Farm chain, which had its own store located directly across the street. “These companies just want to snuff people’s livelihood away,” she said. “Local 400 members have given up holidays, children’s functions and family functions to make these companies successful. For these companies to think they can wipe these people out and leave them with nothing, it is heart-wrenching to see. To move a store right across the street was such a slap in the face. All of us have to fight for all of our members.”

With 28 years working for Giant, Bernadette calls herself and her family, “Local 400 grown.” Her sister works at Giant #123 as a pharmacy technician. Her son, who is 21 and in college, worked at Giant from the time he was 16 and worked over the summer through his freshman year. And her husband, Terrence Christian, Sr., is grocery manager at Giant #2381 in Washington, D.C. Her daughter is the only exception.

“Whatever I’m able to do for my Local 400 sisters and brothers, I get back a thousand-fold,” Bernadette said. “My parents both passed away within three months of one another, and the support we got from our fellow members was just phenomenal. Thanks to them, we were able to say goodbye to my parents in the right way. There are so many good people at Giant and in our union, it’s wonderful.”

Kroger Shop Steward Retires After 42 Years

Fought for Fair Treatment, Served on Four Bargaining Committees

Over the course of 42 years working for Kroger—40 as a shop steward—Ray Jones saw a massive amount of change. But every step of the way, through good times and bad, there was always one constant—he made sure management treated his sisters and brothers fairly.

“Back in the day, everything was done at the store level,” Ray said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, I could take care of any issue that arose in-house. If not, I could make a call, get a regional manager on the line, and take care of it on the phone. I could nip things in the bud the day they happened.

“Today, it’s not like that,” he said. “Managers are too scared for their jobs to resolve problems, so they immediately get corporate involved. This leads to a long, drawn-out process and grievances that can take months.

“Before, managers knew the employees and knew their work ethic,” Ray noted. “If a worker makes a mistake, he or she might get a slap on the wrist and later may go on to become a manager. Today, we lose good employees over minor infractions because of zero tolerance policies. That’s one reason turnover’s so high.”

During his more than four decades at Kroger, Ray has served on four bargaining committees—one with UFCW Local 347 and the other three with Local 400 after the two locals merged. He raised the issue of turnover in his most recent three negotiations. “I told Kroger, we’ve got to find something to keep people here, we’re losing too many good workers,” Ray recalled. “They told me three different times, ‘We like the churn.’

“In the earlier years of bargaining, we were a smaller group and so were the Kroger negotiators,” Ray said. “We could sit around and air out our issues. Today, Kroger alone has 12 to 15 people there and they’re a lot less willing to listen. Their approach seems to be, ‘There’s only so many jelly beans in the bowl. You can decide how much goes to wages, health care and pensions, but we’re not going to give you any more jelly beans.’”

Ray’s passion for fairness and justice led him to become a shop steward when he was just 20 years old. “I had worked at Kroger in Morgantown, W.Va. for about a year and some of the employees felt there was favoritism, and they felt like I was fair, so I was asked to be an assistant steward,” he recalled. “At first, I wasn’t sure what to do, but a couple of days later, I was having lunch in an Arby’s. I asked for my roast beef sandwich without sauce and the young woman behind the counter told the manager that. But when I got my sandwich, it had sauce. So I brought it up to the counter. Then, the manager reamed the poor woman out for his own mistake, and told her to punch out and go home. She was in tears. So I gave the manager a piece of my mind and I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t let anything like that happen at Kroger.

“I’ve always treated both sides fairly,” Ray said. “If I saw a manager doing something wrong, I’d let them know. There was an atmosphere of mutual respect. Kroger used to be a fun place to work. Now, managers are so afraid for their jobs, it’s taken all the fun out of it and makes everything harder.”

Ray, who worked most recently as assistant deli manager at Kroger #730 in Elkins, W.Va., retired on August 31st partly out of frustration with the way the work has become more automated and rigid. “I found myself having to spend more time doing reports than stocking shelves,” he said. “They took a two-hour job and turned it into a four-hour job. And that took me away from serving customers.”

At age 60, Ray is not ready to call it a day, and he now works as a real estate broker and property appraiser. He lives in Elkins with his wife, Peggy. Together, they have four children and five grandchildren. And while he no longer works at Kroger, he deeply values his service and activism with Local 400.

“Being active in your union makes you a better person overall, because your fellow members hold you to a higher standard, and so does management,” Ray said. “Everyone has eyes on you. So you’ve got to be policing yourself about being on time, doing the job right, behaving right. Above all, you try to treat everyone fairly. So you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to be on top of your game. Being a shop steward has helped me achieve greater success in all aspects of my life. I’m very grateful for that and for all I was able to do to help my brothers and sisters.”

Sep 27: DanChem Technologies Membership Meeting

On Thursday, September 27, we will be hosting a union meeting for members working at DanChem Technologies to prepare for upcoming negotiations on our new contract.

We need your help to shape our strategy and prioritize our goals for negotiations. Your input will help us put together proposals well in advance of the actual contract negotiations and help us fight hardest for the things you and your coworkers want most.

As a Local 400 union member, please make a plan to attend this important meeting.

DanChem Technologies Membership Meeting

September 27, 2018
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Courtyard Marriott
2136 Riverside Drive, Danville, VA 24540

Kroger Members Vote Overwhelmingly to Ratify New Contract in Richmond/Tidewater

Kroger members working at 22 stores in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new union contract today.

Congratulations on your new contract! Some highlights include:

  • Accelerated wage scales with guaranteed pay increases twice a year
  • Annual bonuses for most experienced associates
  • Premium pay for select positions in the store
  • Maintaining affordable healthcare and retirement benefits

Thanks to every member who came out to vote today. This wouldn’t have been possible without your hard work. Our union membership has grown significantly and this new and improved contract reflects our greater strength. As we continue to grow stronger, our contracts will continue to get better.

Your new contract takes effect immediately and extends through August 7, 2021. To get a review copy of the new contract, talk to your shop steward or union representative, or call our headquarters at  1-800-638-0800 (Mon – Fri, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.).

Hundreds of Kroger Associates Win $90,000 Settlement in West Virginia

Pictured left to right, back row first: David Simpson, Gary Southall, Shawn Cantrell, Chelsea Snow, Stephen Bumgardner and Randy Fields at Kroger #725 in St. Albans, W.Va.

Hundreds of Local 400 members are about to receive back pay checks after winning a $90,000 settlement against Kroger, following a grievance against the company over lengthy delays in implementing raises provided for under the terms of their contract.

Kroger members in West Virginia ratified a new contract last Fall that provided raises for backups and night crew workers. The contract was ratified on November 6, but the raises were supposed to take effect retroactively to October 7, 2017—the date the previous contract expired. But Kroger didn’t start paying the new raises until February 2018, leaving a roughly four-month gap when hundreds of people should have been paid at the higher rate.

“When we went to a meeting on the contract, I saw that DSD [direct store delivery] people got their raises immediately and someone in pharmacy got a raise in December, but they made us wait until February,” recalled David Simpson, a 38-year Kroger veteran who is shop steward and backup meat cutter at Kroger #725 in St. Albans, W.Va.

“That wasn’t right,” he said. “So I looked into it. I talked to the night crew and meat cutters and they thought they should be getting their raises too.”

David filed a grievance against Kroger and with the assistance of his Local 400 representative, Gary Southall, worded it to ensure that it covered all 522 members affected by the company’s contract violation.

The grievance went through first, second, and third level meetings and each time, Kroger refused to budge. It was finally slated for arbitration and at that point, the company realized it was unlikely to win and negotiated the $90,000 settlement.

“I was very excited about the victory,” Dave said. “A little extra never hurts anybody. I thought I was right all along and this shows Kroger knew it. I told the night crew and everyone was happy.

“Kroger’s always trying to put one over on us and this time we got them instead,” he added.

The $90,000 settlement is being divided equally among the 522 members who were affected. Settlement checks have been mailed and should arrive in members’ mailboxes over the next several days.

September 11: Kroger Richmond-Tidewater Contract Meeting

Be There to Vote on Your Next Contract

We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with Kroger that we are prepared to recommend for ratification. The offer provides better pay and maintains affordable healthcare.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, we will hold two membership meetings where we will review the offer in detail and answer any questions you may have. It is critical that you make every effort to attend one of these meetings and hear the details of your contract proposal. You only have to attend one of the meetings.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

8:00 a.m. Richmond
Four Points by Sheraton
4700 South Laburnum Avenue, Richmond, VA 23231
Registration begins at 7:00 a.m.

5:30 p.m. Norfolk
DoubleTree Norfolk Airport
1500 North Military Highway, Norfolk, VA 23502
Registration begins at 4:30 p.m.

As a Local 400 union member, you have the opportunity to get answers to your questions and vote on your next contract. Please make a plan to attend one of these important contract meetings.

In the meantime, all of the protections and benefits of your current union contract remain in effect. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to talk to your shop steward, union representative, or call our headquarters at 1-800-638-0800 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.).

Clinton Healthcare Center Workers Awarded $1,500 in Back Pay

From left to right: James Smith, Joyce Jackson, Claudene Fletcher and Dora Young, along with shop steward Tawanna Gray, received $1,500 in back pay after filing a grievance at Clinton Healthcare Center.

Like most Local 400 members, the contract covering employees at the Clinton Healthcare Center in Clinton, Md., requires scheduling to be based on seniority. Workers with the most seniority are scheduled for 10 days in each two week period, and those with less tenure might find their hours more varied, based on staffing needs.

But shortly after Clinton was purchased by CommuniCare Health Services, a for-profit company that operates 50 health care and rehabilitation centers in five states, scheduling started to change. “The new management wasn’t looking at our contract or our needs, it was just doing whatever it wanted,” said Local 400 shop steward Tawanna Gray. “I told them, ‘we have seniority and you have to follow our collective bargaining agreement.’ But they didn’t listen.”

So Tawanna spoke with her Local 400 representative, Heather Thomas, who filed a grievance on behalf of Clinton employees against management.

At first, progress was slow. But then a new general manager was hired who recognized the company was in the wrong and who worked cooperatively with Local 400 members to put things right.

“It took a while, but we let him know how many hours each affected employee was denied, and eventually, they wrote back pay checks,” Tawanna said. “And from that day forward, they’ve always looked at seniority first in scheduling.”

The total amount of back pay was nearly $1,500 for the five members who had been wrongfully denied their hours — Claudene Fletcher, Joyce Jackson, Rose Proctor, James Smith and Dora Young.

“I didn’t get any money back myself, but I was so happy for everyone who did,” Tawanna said. “The people who deserved it got it. And they were very, very grateful.

“I think it’s always a plus when the company and union agree together,” she added. “An even greater plus is when you have a GM from the company who says, ‘I see a mistake, I’ll take care of it, and it won’t happen again.’ It was a real morale booster, especially for me because I didn’t feel I had to do it all by myself. We had our union to back us up.”

Safeway Stocker Reinstated with Back Pay After Wrongful Suspension

“They threw me under the bus.”

Fortunately for Local 400 member Eric Jarrett, that wasn’t the end of the story.

Eric works as an overnight stocker at Safeway #1019 in Alexandria, Virginia. His store is one of the few locations that is supposed to be open 24 hours.

But one night, Eric was instructed to close the store when there was no cashier on duty. Even though he was following instructions, Eric’s manager suspended him and one of his coworkers.

“You have to have at least one checker in the store for it to stay open,” Eric said. “But the guy who normally does the job had hurt his shoulder and was home for two weeks. So the store had to be closed occasionally because we had no checker or because the floors had to be waxed. The store manager knew all about it. When customers started complaining, instead of accepting responsibility, they blamed it another stocker and me. But I am in no position to close the store. I wasn’t the one who decided to do it.”

Eric didn’t take this sitting down. He worked with his union representative and immediately filed a grievance and pursued it aggressively.

“I was out of work for three and a half weeks,” Eric said. “Tom [Rogers, his Local 400 representative] spoke on my behalf and did a marvelous job of getting me reinstated as fast as he could. I was impatient and apprehensive, but Tom calmed me down. He knew what he was doing and reached a good settlement.”

Eric was reinstated and awarded full back pay for the time of his suspension and justice was served.

“I’m good where I’m at right now, but as far as I’m concerned, Safeway owes me [and my coworker] an apology for throwing us under the bus,” Eric said. “Safeway used to be a good company, but they don’t care about their employees, only the bottom line. They’re making lots of money in my store, but they keep cutting back hours and running on a skeleton crew. This company can’t run by itself — they need us. I’m just thankful our union’s got our backs.”

Kroger Tentative Agreement Reached

We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with Kroger on a new contract that we are prepared to recommend for ratification. The offer provides better pay and maintains affordable healthcare.

We are arranging membership meetings to vote on the proposal, at which time we will review the offer in detail and answer any questions you may have. As a member of Local 400, it is critical that you make every effort to attend one of these meetings and cast your vote on your next contract. We will announce the meeting information as soon as possible.

In the meantime, all of the protections and benefits of your current union contract remain in effect.

As always, we will continue to keep you informed every step of the way. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to talk to your shop steward, union representative, or call our headquarters at 1-800-638-0800 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.).

West Virginia Shop Steward Hosts His Own Union Meetings at Home

Jim Logan holds a sign at a Kroger rally in West Virginia.

Jim Logan has been a Kroger employee and union member in West Virginia for 42 years. He lives in Caldwell and works in Fairlea, but to people who don’t live there, it’s all Lewisburg – the town with a population of around 3,800 that was named “the coolest small town in America” by Budget Travel in 2011. While Lewisburg may be celebrated for its “breathtaking vistas,” and “eclectic food scene,” the area around it is often overlooked.

“It’s considered a good retirement place, good hunting, good fishing,” Jim says. “You have a wide gamut of people, [you have people] who live at the sporting club at Greenbrier, which is beyond our imagination, and then you have people who are just squeaking by.”

Jim’s coworkers know this better than anyone. “Everyone knows how tight things have gotten in the last ten years,” he says. “And it used to be that it didn’t affect everybody, but no one has any sense of security nowadays.”

But he sees in this economic hardship an opportunity for building solidarity. “Everyone needs to feed a family, and they may differ on certain viewpoints, but beyond that everyone agrees that a livable wage is an important thing, insurance is an important thing,” he says. “We need to focus on those issues and then respect everyone else’s position on different issues, and be willing to allow a diversity of people to come to the table. […] And that’s what the union does in the workplace — it allows people to have a voice in their future. And that’s a precious thing.”

Jim served as a member of the Contract Action Team during negotiations with Kroger last year. “I had really hoped to be at the table negotiating, but instead they put me on the action committee, and I was like, this is not what I want to do,” he admits. “But then I thought, well, if I’m going to be a positive impact, I can’t back down now, I have to do this.”

And he learned a lot in the process, about organizing informational picket lines, connecting with other unions and members from elsewhere, and communicating with customers about workers’ needs.

When the local started organizing demonstrations at Kroger stores throughout West Virginia, Jim and his coworkers were invited to participate at the protest in Beckley, about an hour away. They certainly had cause to demonstrate – turnover was high and only getting higher and many of Jim’s coworkers, especially the younger and newer employees, felt undervalued and disrespected by the company.

Now more than ever, they needed to know that their union was fighting for them and that they could and should participate in that fight. “We just really needed to say, enough is enough,” he says, and they needed to say it in Fairlea.

So they held their own demonstration. “We had a good turnout,” he recalls. “People were coming out on their lunches and breaks and joining in, and it was really well received in the community. [Customers] would literally come up and say, ‘Do you want us not to go in and shop?’ And we would say, ‘No, we just want you to understand what’s going on and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

With mounting public pressure on Kroger, an agreement was reached and a new contract was ratified a few weeks later with zero cuts. This certainly was a victory, but Jim knows there is always more work to be done. And since West Virginia became a right-to-work state in 2016, he’s learning to play a whole new ball game.

“There’s no way someone can just start at a job and grasp all of the dynamics that are involved in having a decent job,” he says. “So [with right-to-work] there’s this huge educational curve, right from the get-go, of what it means to belong to the union and what it can accomplish. And what I’m learning is that in that little 15 minute introduction, without any kind of established relationship with a new person it’s almost an impossible thing to accomplish.”

As an ordained Baptist minister, Jim used to formally pastor a church, but since he’s lived in Caldwell, West Virginia he’s been “unchurching,” or holding services in people’s houses. On Tuesday nights he hosts bible study in his own home, and every once in a while, he hosts a union meeting. Otherwise, Jim and his co-workers have to drive an hour to get to union meetings, which he says can be economically burdensome.

He usually only hosts union meetings at his house for special occasions, but he’s been thinking about hosting more casual get-togethers, “bridge-builders” he calls them, to help create a stronger sense of community in his store.

“It’s probably the direction we need to go,” he says. “Now in an environment of right-to-work, you’ve got those issues of trust and truth again. You can say you care but sometimes you have to show you care.”

With 42 years of experience under his belt, Jim Logan sounds patient, almost calm, but part of what allows him to connect with younger workers is that he remembers how frustrating it was to be in their position.

He has a saying: “A bunch of straws are harder to break than just one.” He knows that all of his co-workers complaints are valid, no matter how long they’ve been working for Kroger, but he also knows that the best way to address them is to stand together.

“I try to articulate it’s a long-term investment,” Jim says about union dues. “And when [new employees] look in that contract they can see some of those better wages, [and realize] that it took everyone a long time to get there but the only way to get there is to stick together.”

Both his patience and his passion are manifestations of how much Jim Logan cares. He says he doesn’t know why he became a shop steward. But then he says, with absolute certainty, “I really care about people. And I’ve got this thing, if someone is an underdog or at a disadvantage, if someone takes advantage of that, that just really lights me up. It’s something in my nature.”

And it’s not changing any time soon. As he looks forward, Jim has a bunch of ideas for how he can better support his fellow union members and build community relationships, both in his corner of West Virginia and throughout the region. He hopes to retire from Kroger soon, but not from union activism.

“If and when I get to retire, I think that then I will become more and more politically active, because the union needs friends,” he says. “And I will do it without compromising, because I’m not doing it for a career or economics, just because it’s the right thing to do.”