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Sarah Strong: Rock of Strength

Sarah Strong is an assistant front end manager at Kroger in Bristol, VA.

Sarah Strong is an assistant front end manager at Kroger in Bristol, VA.

Sarah Strong has a powerful sense of justice. An assistant front end manager at Kroger #335 in Bristol, Va., there is little that makes her angrier than to see how courtesy clerks at the store are mistreated.

In an increasing practice, Kroger has hired “courtesy clerks” to push carts, bag groceries, and assist customers in the front of the store. These employees are paid Virginia’s minimum wage, a paltry $7.25 an hour, and are ostensibly prohibited from promotion opportunities or pay raises. According to several members, few courtesy clerks last more than a matter of months.

“They do the hardest job but they’re paid the least,” Sarah said. “They’re out there in the bad weather collecting the carts and they clean the bathrooms, too. They’re just as important as me, but they’re certainly not treated that way. It’s just not fair.

“What’s even worse is they’re not given an opportunity to make more money or move up no matter long they’ve worked there,” she said. “We’re not even allowed to train courtesy clerks to become cashiers. They should be able to make a career of it, get health insurance and afford to pay their bills. Yes, some are kids in school who aren’t expecting to stay long, but improving the position—or eliminating it entirely—would reduce the high turnover rate.”

Sarah has turned her outrage into activism. She was hired at her store seven years ago as—yes—a courtesy clerk, but within a week she was moved up. Since that time, she has worked in virtually every department of the store. And she has made a point of speaking up for her co-workers. That led to her becoming a shop steward, a position she had to give up three years ago due to family obligations. But she remains deeply involved in the affairs of her store and her union.

Sarah has been attending meetings to prepare for the upcoming Kroger-Roanoke bargaining (see page 14) and plans to play an active role in process. “I’m going to encourage our members to vote when the time comes for ratification,” she said. “It’s very important that members listen to what’s been offered, to understand what’s happening, and to know what we’re fighting for. We’ve got to get our membership up and our voices heard. If our members don’t care, things won’t get better. We can’t expect change if nothing changes.

“Above all, we can’t bicker among ourselves,” she said. “It’s not all about ‘you.’ It’s all about ‘us.’ Being in a united front means more than you would think.”

Sarah, who lives in Bristol with her 10-year-old son, Landon, is a people person above all else. Her favorite part of her job is her customers. “Sometimes you see their whole families, you know them for years, and they’re the funniest, sweetest people you can meet,” she said. “All you have to do is say, ‘Hi, did you find everything OK?’ and you can make some very good friendships.”

And people are what Local 400 means to her, too. “We’ve got support,” she said. “When I went after the position I have now, I had to fight tooth and nail. My shop stewards went above and beyond the call to make sure I was treated fairly. Without their support, I never would have gotten this position. I’ve also become very good friends with several members. In a big company like Kroger, you can feel alone. But being a Local 400 member means I’m not alone. And that means the world.”

Kroger Calls Police On Union For Giving Away Free Turkeys

Despite bringing a positive message to Kroger shoppers, management called the police.

Despite bringing a positive message to Kroger shoppers, management called the police.

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.

Photos from the Day:

UFCW Local 400 At Yorktown, Va. Kroger Grand Opening

11063625_934076963279873_3775071724033285286_nUpon the closing of Kroger 534 in Yorktown, Kroger 555 reopened on May 13 across the street in a new and more updated space. Our Kroger brothers and sisters worked long and hard hours preparing the store’s for the grand opening. Stewards, representatives, organizers, and new members all joined in celebrating the opening with a canopy in front of the store. Some folks were outside giving UFCW Local 400 balloons away, painting children’s faces, and chatting with customers while Kroger stewards Laverne “Misty” Wrenn and Cheryl Brown talked to dozens of new hires inside the store. Over 220 community members signed cards declaring that they “love shopping union” and many engaged with members about how great it was that Kroger is a union shop. Over 220 community members signed cards declaring that they “love shopping union” and many engaged with members about how great it was that Kroger is a union shop.
We will be posting these cards on the union bulletin board inside the break room soon. Many customers proudly wore our Local 400 gold union t-shirts inside while they shopped. “At one point I went inside the store to talk to members and saw the aisles covered in UFCW gold,” said Kayla Mock, Local 400 union organizer. “It was great to see such an outpouring of support from the customers.”

Boycott Kroger Marketplace in Hampton Roads and Staples Mill! 

Spread the Word & Share With Everyone You Know! 
We all know Kroger is trying to drive good, union jobs out of Virginia! They have been opening non-union stores across the state, taking good jobs out of our communities, driving down wages and benefits, and getting rid of job security. Tell Kroger this behavior is unacceptable! As competitors like Walmart, Target, Martins, and others are raising wages in response to the demands of retail workers, Kroger is closing its stores where employees have a voice through their union and replacing them with non-union stores where employees can be fired for speaking out. Sign the petition to support your fellow Local 400 members and Kroger workers, be sure to share far and wide—after you sign, of course! Here’s the direct link to copy and paste onto your social networks: http://bit.ly/NoShopMktplce

Kroger Workers Rally to Keep Jobs

By UFCW International

CCQg1w_WYAEBFRM.jpg-largeKroger workers, customers and community allies gathered in front of the Frederick Boulevard Kroger last week to protest the company’s unfair treatment of union store workers. The company closed the Portsmouth Kroger Food & Drug store on Saturday and is transferring most the store’s union workforce to a store in Yorktown, 25 miles away.

Store workers delivered a petition to Kroger requesting that workers be allowed to transfer to a local Kroger Marketplace store instead. Hundreds of customers have pledged not to shop at either of the newly opened Kroger Marketplace stores until the Kroger grocery store workers are allowed to transfer to a local store while retaining their union benefits and wages. More than 60 workers have requested this transfer.

“It’s been hard saying goodbye to coworkers that just can’t make the 50 mile round-trip to the new store. We’ve built our lives around this store and the Portsmouth community,” said Laverne Wren, who has worked for Kroger for 16 years. “Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. But this false choice – commute or quit – was never part of our contract.”

Many workers will lose their jobs if they cannot find transportation to Yorktown. Nick Roe, who has special needs, has worked for Kroger for 17 years. He cannot drive, and relies on his parents to drive him to and from work each day. If Nick is not allowed to transfer to the local Kroger Marketplace, his ability to keep a job he loves will rely on his parents’ ability to drive 100 miles each day. Other workers are weighing the toll that this commute will take on their families. Michael Cowan works the overnight shift in order to share childcare duties with his wife. The long commute means that the family will have to start sending their young daughter to daycare during Michael’s commute.

“Kroger is deliberately expanding its non-union stores with the acquisition of Harris Teeter, and with this new tactic of building non-union Kroger Marketplaces, and then pushing loyal union workers out of town,” said Mark Federici, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 400. “If we want to keep good jobs in Portsmouth, then it is time for all workers – grocery and Marketplace – to have a union voice at Kroger.”

The union contract negotiated between Kroger and UFCW Local 400 stipulates that in the event that Kroger closes a store, the company will transfer workers to another union store. Kroger Marketplace stores are non-union and do not offer the same pay or benefits guaranteed by the union contract.

“The High Street Kroger workers are members of the Portsmouth community. They are our friends and neighbors,” said James Boyd, President of the Portsmouth branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “We are out here today because we believe that good jobs are essential to the strength of this community. We want Kroger to be a partner in strengthening our community by keeping good jobs and loyal employees in Portsmouth.”

View footage of the protest by WAVY Channel 10 News.

Join Us April 10 As We Demand Kroger Keep Good Jobs in Portsmouth, VA

KrogerMarketplaceApril10Kroger is closing its store on High St. and NOT giving employees the option of staying in the area. Instead, Kroger is only offering them jobs at a new store in Yorktown — a 50 mile round trip commute.

As one worker, Laverne Wrenn, wrote in the Virginia Pilot, “All of us who work in the High Street store are members of the Portsmouth community. We live here and send our children to the neighborhood schools…We have built our lives around this store and this communi- ty. But now Kroger is giving us just one month’s notice to transfer to a store 25 miles away or lose our jobs.”

STAND WITH THESE WORKERS AS THEY DEMAND THE RIGHT TO TRANSFER TO CLOSER STORES WITH ALL THE BENEFITS AND PROTECTIONS OF THE UNION CONTRACT.

Can’t make it April 10, we have an online petition for you to take action right now!

ACTION DETAILS:
april 10, 4:30p.m.
Midcity Shopping Center
Meet up: Walmart parking lot next to the Kroger Marketplace
1098 Frederick Blvd. Portsmouth, VA

Labor Notes’ Steward’s Corner: In a ‘Right to Work’ State, Union Grows by Fighting Racism

Shop Steward and Kroger Richmond/Tidewater bargaining committee member, Laverne Wrenn, wrote a column for the publication Labor Notes describing how she and her coworkers took notes, kept records and confronted a racist manager that worked in her store in Portsmouth, Va. since 2011 and gained solidarity and more membership in her store.

“We continued to document everything she did. We put together a team of people from different departments and shifts to make sure we caught every incident. We filed grievances every time we could, so that Kroger would recognize it had a problem manager.”

As the members got stronger the manager attempted the same to “get rid” of them.

“Finally she made a mistake even Kroger could not ignore,” wrote Wrenn. “She was trying to get some of the ‘black girls’ fired for not signing their names properly after cleaning the deli. To make them look worse, she forged a customer comment card with a complaint.”

She got caught.

After nearly two years, the manager was gone. This just proves that when you stick together in your stores real change can happen, real power can be generated as more members join our fight for workers’ rights.

Since Virginia is a “right to work” state, not everyone in Wrenn’s store is a union member, but when people saw the power her and her fellow union members had to stand up to their racist manager and still have the protection to do so, many who’d never been interest in the union before came to her and signed up. “They wanted to join me in fighting back,” said Wrenn.

Read more of Wrenn’s experience of standing up to fight back to her store’s manager. 

Join Us March 7: It’s Going Down at the WV State Capitol! Are you in?!

click to enlarge.

click to enlarge.

Join us Saturday, March 7 at noon on the steps of the WV state capitol located at 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E, Charleston, WV, as we rally with thousands of union and other workers from across the Mountain State to make some noise against “Right to Work and other anti-worker bills. Please see your shop steward or contact your Local 400 representative to sign up!

Kroger West Virginia Stewards Take to Charleston to Say “Right to Work” is WRONG for West Virginia!

WVaStewardsGroup_editedWednesday, February 18, 100+ Kroger West Virginia shop stewards along with Local 23 members gathered for a shop steward seminar. Among the special guests was Senator Mike Romano, who gave an engaging speech about the anti-worker bills being proposed in the state’s legislator. He also highlighted the importance of turning union members out to the polls to elect officials that supported the hard working men and women of West Virginia. The snow and ice didn’t stop us from traveling to the state’s capitol to lobby legislators on why right-to-work is wrong for workers and wrong for the state of West Virginia.
Check out our Facebook for more action shots of the day’s events!

Kroger Members Request Vacation!

(deadlines vary)
REMINDER!
Kroger Richmond/Tidewater: You have until February 15 to select your desired dates for vacation for the year, with no black out dates. You can select any days or weeks you desire. The selection will be awarded on a seniority basis within each department as stated in your collective bargaining agreement. Your manager is required to post a schedule of final vacation decisions by March 1.

Kroger Richmond/Tidewater. Click to enlarge.

Kroger Richmond/Tidewater. Click to enlarge.

Kroger Roanoke: You have until March 1 to select your desired dates for vacation for the year, with no black out dates. You can select any days or weeks you desire. The selection will be awarded on a seniority basis within each department as stated in your collective bargaining agreement.

Kroger Roanoke. Click to enlarge.

Kroger Roanoke. Click to enlarge.

Kroger West Virginia: You have from February 1-March 10. You can select any days or weeks you desire. The selection will be awarded on a seniority basis within each store as stated in your collective bargaining agreement. The completed vacation schedule will be posted by March 15.

Kroger West Virginia. Click to enlarge.

Kroger West Virginia. Click to enlarge.

If you’re finding your manager is saying that certain days or weeks are being blacked out and you can’t take vacation during those times, or not giving you a final decision in writing please call your representative immediately to report this violation.
Giant, Safeway and Shoppers members don’t forget to request your time off as well!