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Kroger Shop Steward Wins Promotions, Raises for 10 Members

Drema Trent, a shop steward at Kroger #322 in Vinton, Va., won raises for ten courtesy clerks at her store by enforcing the contract.

If you work at a Kroger store in the Roanoke region, you know courtesy clerks have a tough job to do.  They are the lowest paid employees in the store and have little to no opportunity for advancement.

Kroger justifies this practice by saying courtesy clerks are only responsible for a limited set of duties – such as bagging groceries and returning shopping carts. If a courtesy clerk is assigned work above and beyond their normal duties, he or she is supposed to get paid more for doing that work. But we all know that more than not, Kroger is cheating these workers out of the higher pay they deserve.

When Drema Trent saw courtesy clerks working the cash registers at her Kroger store, she decided to do something about it.

A shop steward and front-end clerk at Kroger #322 in Vinton, Va., Drema took photos of every courtesy clerk working a register. She talked with them and had them sign forms testifying that they were assigned work beyond the scope of a courtesy clerk’s responsibilities. She then sent the information to her Local 400 representative, Steve Meador, who verified the details and took it to management.

The result? Ten courtesy clerks were promoted to front-end clerks and given raises. And Kroger now faces arbitration over whether the store violated the contract’s “three strikes” policy against misusing courtesy clerks, which would eliminate the position entirely.

“It felt really good to enforce the contract and get results for the young men and women involved,” Drema said. “They were really happy about it. And it improved morale on the front end.”

Drema makes it a priority to sign new employees up as Local 400 members—and this action certainly provided a reminder about why joining their union is the best investment they can make in their future. “I’ve got a good rapport with the younger people,” she said. “I explain to them what a union is, since many of them don’t actually know that. I talk about how our union gets them better wages and benefits, and how if you ever get in trouble, you won’t have to go alone, one of us will be with you to make sure you’re treated fairly.

“I also discuss how fantastic our insurance is,” she added. “I was in a car accident last year and had to be out for more than half a year. My health costs were covered and our union paid me for six months.

“And then I talk about my daughter, who’s 22, started at Kroger when she was 14, and now works full-time with full benefits,” Drema said. “This also makes them see the advantage of joining Local 400.”

Drema started at Kroger 10 years ago. It was her first union job, and the fact that workers had Local 400 representation was a big reason why she wanted to work there. She became a shop steward nearly two years ago. “I have kind of a big mouth,” she said, “and knew everybody in the store, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.”

She attended some of the union meetings last year during negotiations over the current Kroger-Roanoke contract. “It was the first time I’d been to one and it was a very powerful thing to witness,” she recalled. “I’d like to be involved in future negotiations.”

For Drema, Kroger is a family business. In addition to her 22-year-old daughter, Katie Robertson, her 33-year-old daughter, Jennifer Trent, also works at Kroger and is interested in becoming a shop steward. She also has a 24-year-old son who worked at Kroger for five years before moving to another job, and an older son who is 36. She lives in Thaxton.

“It’s really important to have a voice to speak for you other than just yourself,” Drema said. “If you’re at Kroger, you have somebody on your side—your union. And I think we have 10 of my Local 400 sisters and brothers at my store who can testify to that.”

Victory! All Courtesy Clerks Promoted at Kroger Store in Lynchburg

Member activism and the hard work of Local 400 shop steward Mary Little won a landmark victory at a Kroger store—all courtesy clerks were promoted to front end clerks, gaining raises, benefits, holiday pay and paid vacations in the process.

In fact, all Local 400 members working at Kroger under the Roanoke and West Virginia contracts have the power to make the same gains at their stores if management regularly assigns courtesy clerks tasks beyond the scope of their position, such as stocking shelves or providing break relief for cashiers.

Thanks to tough negotiating by Kroger members, the current contracts inRoanoke and West Virginia state clearly that if management at any store misuses courtesy clerks in this way three times, all courtesy clerks are promoted and the position is eliminated. It doesn’t matter how far apart the violations happen or whether they involve different managers or courtesy clerks—it’s “three strikes and you’re out!”

At Kroger #408 on Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg, Mary Little uncovered three such violations. They took place this fall, involving two courtesy clerks and two store managers.

“I saw that one courtesy clerk was manning the register,” Mary said. “I made sure what his classification was, and then I snapped a picture. They asked me what was going on and I explained why I did it. The courtesy clerk said he’d been working as a cashier for a while. I took it to the store manager; he blamed it on the courtesy clerk and said he’d deal with it. But he didn’t. Because several weeks later, I caught the same violation.

“A few weeks after that, I caught a different courtesy clerk working as a cashier and she told me she’d been doing it for almost a year,” Mary recalled. “Management did promote her and gave her back pay, which was good. She was very grateful, said she’d put her back pay in the bank and would use it toward college.

“Most important, this was the third violation,” she said. “So my representative and I put the wheels in motion to enforce the contract.” On January 6, 2017, Kroger confirmed the workers’ victory in a letter, stating:

A copy of the statement signed by Kroger announcing that all courtesy clerks at a store in Lynchburg would be promoted and the courtesy clerk job classification would be eliminated at the store entirely.

Store 408 will no longer hire associates into the Courtesy Clerk classification. All associates currently classified as a Courtesy Clerk will be reclassified as a Front End Clerk effective Sunday, January 8, 2016. All future associates being hired for the courtesy clerk position will now be hired and classified as a Front End Clerk for the duration of the existing contract.

This was a huge achievement, but Mary isn’t resting on her laurels. She travels to other Krogers on her two days off.  “I’m going to go to every shop steward,” she said. “I’m going to talk to them, hand them the playbook on how to do this, and tell them how we did it at our store. I’ll coach them, because all courtesy clerks deserve the same raises and benefits as the rest of us.

It’s not that hard to do,” Mary explained. “You just have to be focused and you have to pay attention to your surroundings. You can do your work and also look out for people at the same time. You have to know who your courtesy clerks are. Communication is the number one thing.”

“This is one area where it’s relatively easy for members to make a difference and improve the lives of their brothers and sisters,” said Local 400 representative Philip Frisina, who serves Kroger #408 and other stores in the region. “The process is so simple. If you see a courtesy clerk given non-courtesy clerk tasks, take photos, document the violation, and contact your representative. That’s all it took to get our members the promotions they deserved at this store, and that’s all it will take at any other store. The power is in our members’ hands.”

Under the Kroger collective bargaining agreements in West Virginia and in the Roanoke region, after the first written complaint, the store must stop assigning improper tasks to courtesy clerks. After the second written complaint, any affected courtesy clerks must start getting paid at the part-time clerk hourly rate effective immediately upon the date the written complaint is received. And after the third written complaint, the courtesy clerk classification is eliminated at the store.

“I believe everyone should be treated equally,” Mary said. “Courtesy clerks have a hard job. They’re out there in the snow and sleet pushing carts and I always thought it was wrong for Kroger not to give them benefits. They are my co-workers and my friends, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help them out. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, I’m all for it.

“It’s a wonderful thing that we did,” Mary emphasized, “and I’m just going to do everything I can to get every shop steward on board so we can get all of these courtesy clerks what they deserve.”

How YOU Can Take Action

If you work as a courtesy clerk, or if you see a courtesy clerk at your store doing work he or she shouldn’t have to do, you should file a written complaint. Remember, if this happens three times at your store, the courtesy clerk “classification” will be eliminated at your store and courtesy clerks will be promoted.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Ask your rep for a copy of the Courtesy Clerk Playbook – inside you’ll find all documentation and forms you need to properly file a complaint with your store manager.
  2. Take a photo of the courtesy clerk performing duties outside the scope of his/her job.
  3. Take a photo of the schedule for that day.
  4. Fill out a Notice of Complaint form and take a photo of the complaint after you’ve filled it out. The form can be found in the Courtesy Clerk Playbook.
  5. Give the completed Notice of Complaint to your store manager.
  6. Fill out an Incident Report form to document the violation. Write down anything the manager said after you delivered the complaint. Note the date, time, name of the courtesy clerk, and the name of the person you believe assigned the courtesy clerk improper duties. Take a photo of the form after you’ve filled it out.
  7. Send everything to Local 400 for our records, including the photos described above to:

Alan Hanson, UFCW Local 400
ahanson@local400.org
(301) 256-6405

2016 Election Labor Walks

Steve Meador (left), a Local 400 union rep, knocked on hundreds of doors to speak with fellow labor voters last year.

Steve Meador (left), a Local 400 union rep, knocked on hundreds of doors to speak with fellow labor voters last year.

Labor 2016 kicks in to high gear on Saturday, September 10th! Come out to walk and talk with fellow union members about what’s at stake in November’s election.

Meet at 9:00 a.m. on September 10th at one of the following locations:

In Annandale: NoVA Labor Offices – 4536 John Marr Drive

In Richmond: CWA Local 2201 Hall – 5809 Lakeside Ave.

In Norfolk: Ironworkers Local 79 Hall – 5307 E. Virginia Beach Blvd.

In Roanoke: Western Virginia Labor Federation – 2101 Dale Ave., SE

Meet the Winner of This Month’s Active Ballot Club Drawing

20160809-ABC Winner-Christopher Hurd-Kroger 209

Kroger member Christopher Hurd from store 209 in Roanoke, Virginia is the most recent winner of our monthly Active Ballot Club drawing!

“I believe that the union should have some help not only from what we normally do, but also since they help us we should help them a little bit better as they speak for us in the political functions,” he said when asked why he chose to join the Active Ballot Club.

By joining the Active Ballot Club, Local 400 members are automatically entered into a monthly drawing for a chance to win a prize.

All across the country, corporations and the ultra-wealthy are funneling unprecedented amounts of money into our political system. Their goal is to create an unbalanced and unfair economy where wages are as low as possible and profits replace respect for the workers that created them.

The UFCW Active Ballot Club (ABC) seeks to level the playing field. By bringing together thousands of workers, our political concerns can be amplified to a decibel that is impossible to ignore.

Learn more about the UFCW Active Ballot Club and talk to your rep about signing up today!

Member Spotlight: Rick Howell, Union Through And Through

Rick Howell, a nine-year Kroger associate from Roanoke and member of the 2016 contract bargaining team, addresses his fellow UFCW members at a recent contract vote in May.

Rick Howell, a nine-year Kroger associate from Roanoke and member of the 2016 contract bargaining team, addresses his fellow UFCW members at a recent contract vote in May.

When Rick Howell started working at Kroger nine years ago, no one had to tell him why he should join Local 400. Rick’s father worked at Rubatex in Bedford, Va., where he was a proud member of the United Rubber Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers). “He took me to union meetings when I was eight or nine years old,” Rick said of his father. “Even though I didn’t understand everything they were saying, I could tell this was serious business. It really made an impression on me.

“Working people built this country,” Rick said. “I saw my father struggle to support his family on one salary, but back in the ‘60s, with a union contract, you could do that. Today, the middle class in this country has just about been destroyed. That’s one of the tragedies of modern America and only organized labor can fix that.”

A cashier, front-end supervisor, and shop steward at Kroger #375 in Roanoke—and a board member of the Western Virginia Labor Federation—Rick’s strong union perspective served his union well in the just-completed round of bargaining with the company, which was the most contentious in decades.

“I think management showed some ignorance about how the working class in America lives,” he explained. “They make good salaries and they’re sitting across the table from people making $9, $10, $11 an hour. The income gap at Kroger reflects the larger gap in America between corporate CEOs and workers which has only ballooned in recent decades. All we asked them to do is put themselves in our shoes, but they didn’t seem to be able to do that.”

As a member of the Kroger Bargaining Team, Rick strongly supported the May 18th strike authorization vote as critical to getting the collective bargaining agreement that was ratified on June 8th. “We weren’t satisfied some of the specifics in the deal, but overall, we stood up to them and got a better offer,” he said. “It was a hard-fought process, and we had to make tough decisions, but in the end we got the best deal available. It’s something to build on.”

“I was glad to be a part of the committee, and I’m glad we have a contract, after long bargaining hours and hard work,” Rick added.

Rick brought to his work on the Bargaining Team several other unique perspectives—a career as a journalist and decades of work as a political activist. Before joining Kroger, he worked as a reporter and political columnist in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia for 12 years. He currently writes a regular column, “The Liberal Agenda,” for the Bedford Bulletin, giving him a perch from which he discusses the plight of working families and what politicians are—or are not—doing to make life better. For example, in a column last fall on where candidates stood on raising the minimum wage, he wrote, “When people make more money, they spend it, and spending helps the economy. It allows working people to live better, and it spurs economic growth that later creates more jobs. It certainly does not ‘destroy’ the free market system.”

Rick also takes a leadership role electing pro-worker candidates to public office, with direct involvement in the Virginia AFL-CIO’s get-out-the-vote drive each year. “Labor’s political operation is so much more effective than that of the Democratic Party,” he said. “As someone whose first political efforts involved stuffing envelopes for Jimmy Carter in 1976, I’ve never had more fun or seen better results than with the labor GOTV effort.

“I’m grateful to Local 400 for giving me this opportunity every campaign season,” he added, “along with the chance to be a leader in my store and to help people who really need help.”

A Roanoke resident and father of a 20-year-old son, Rick is a role model of member activism, and a strong advocate for it, too. “You know the old saying about how most of life is just showing up?” he said. “We’d gain a lot just by having more members show up at meetings, and be engaged in their union all the time, not only when there’s a crisis.

“What I enjoy is being the face of our union in the store,” Rick said. “I wear my Local 400 button every day and people know they can come to me with any questions. I seek out new employees, whether I’ve been introduced to them or not, and talk to them about their union. The greatest calling is to help people, and knowing I can do that helps me sleep well at night.”

Lucky Member Wins Active Ballot Club Drawing

Evan Baldacci, from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA, showing off his prize after winning the monthly Active Ballot Club drawing.

Evan Baldacci, from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA, showing off his prize after winning the monthly Active Ballot Club drawing.

All across the country, corporations and the ultra-wealthy are funneling unprecedented amounts of money into our political system. Their goal is to create an unbalanced and unfair economy where wages are as low as possible and profits replace respect for the workers that created them.

The UFCW Active Ballot Club (ABC) seeks to level the playing field. By bringing together thousands of workers, our political concerns can be amplified to a decibel that is impossible to ignore.

By joining the Active Ballot Club, Local 400 members are automatically entered into a monthly drawing for a chance to win a prize.

This month’s winner is Evan Baldacci from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA.

“The reason why I joined the was solidarity and voice of reason,” explained Evan when presented with his prize. “The reason for active ballot club is for movement in the political field.”

Learn more about the UFCW Active Ballot Club and talk to your rep about signing up today!

New Contract Ratified, But We Must Keep Fighting

Bargaining Update #10

This week, we voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with Kroger. The new contract takes effect immediately and extends for the next four years, through June 6, 2020.

By standing united, we won several improvements over our last contract:

  • Higher starting pay
  • Raises for department heads
  • Raises for full-time and part-time clerks
  • Four personal holidays (one per year)
  • Retiree healthcare extended to June 2017
  • Maintained healthcare benefits

But let’s be clear: it’s not everything we wanted – and it’s far from what we need. Accepting this offer doesn’t mean we’re backing down or that we’re satisfied with Kroger. In fact, you shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than what you’re worth.

The only way we will get a better contract is to build a stronger union. As your bargaining team, we’re only as strong as our membership in the stores. Anyone that’s been on a bargaining committee will tell you the same thing. When we’re in negotiations, Kroger doesn’t’ give us anything because we made a good argument; we have to take everything we can get from them by demonstrating our power. The only thing Kroger cares about is our ability to threaten their bottom-line: money. Our power as a union is the only thing that Kroger responds to in bargaining.

Just look at what it took to get this contract. When Kroger tried to force us to accept a bad deal, it wasn’t until we all stood together and voted unanimously to authorize a strike that we forced Kroger to do better. We made them take notice and move money at their headquarters in Cincinnati. Kroger knew it could do better, but it took all of us to make them do it. That’s the power of unity. That’s the power of a union. And if we want to force Kroger to make a better offer next time, it will take even more union power to do it.

We don’t have to wait four years to start building power – we can make our jobs better right now. When Kroger violates our rights, we can enforce every letter of our contract right now. We can stand up for each other every single day. We can build alliances with other Kroger workers in Virginia, West Virginia, and across the country so that we are even more powerful.

The truth is, that’s the only way we will win. That’s why it’s so important now more than ever to make sure each and every one of our coworkers is a union member. We have to stick together and we have to stand up for each other if we want our lives to get better.

We were honored to serve as your collective bargaining team. It wasn’t easy to face Kroger negotiators day in and day out for months and be told time and time again that our lives aren’t worth more. We stood strong on every single detail of this contract, but we knew it wasn’t enough. We certainly made several improvements, and even those gains were only possible because all of us stuck together. But we also know it will take even more power to make it better next time.

Together, let’s build the stronger union we need to win. Let’s keep up the fight every day. And in four years, when we are negotiating our next contract, we’ll be even stronger and win even more improvements.

Onward!

Signed,
UFCW Local 400 Bargaining Team

20160402-Kroger-Roanoke-Bargaining-Committee

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20160609-Kroger Roanoke Strike Bargaining Update 11

Our Union – Our Contract – Our Vote on June 8th

20160508-Standing-Strong-for-a-fair-deal_V2
Bargaining Update #10

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Berglund Center/Roanoke Civic Center
710 Williamson Road, Roanoke, VA
Registration opens at 9:00 a.m. | Meeting begins at 10:00 a.m.
*** Please note the new location ***

We know there are a lot of questions about what is in the new offer from Kroger that we are recommending for acceptance at our meeting on June 8th. At this meeting, as with past contracts recommended for acceptance, all of the details will be presented in full, all of your questions will be answered, and you will hear why we are recommending it.

We recognize that this agreement is the best we can achieve. For now. Over the last several years we have grown in numbers and in strength. We demonstrated our power at our last meeting and over the last month as we stood unified and rejected Kroger’s “last best” offer and authorized a strike. In the past, when we were weaker, we may have had to accept that bad offer. This time we forced Kroger to recognize our unity and come back with a better offer.

We are not satisfied with this agreement. It is not enough and it is far from what we deserve for our hard work and what we do every day to serve our customers and make Kroger successful and profitable. Right now we believe we need to remain united, organized, and mobilized to continue to build our strength for the next fight. Our unity this time won us an agreement that contains improvements in all of the areas we fought for. It is a step in the right direction. Our recommendation is that we take these gains and this victory and continue to fight, enforce our contract, and build our union. This is not over.

This is our union, this is our contract, and it will continue to be our fight. Please join us on June 8th so that we can have a full and informed discussion about this proposal and our recommendation. And after the meeting, please continue to stand together with us as we fight to build our union so that we can continue to move closer to winning what we deserve.

Signed,
UFCW Local 400 Bargaining Team

20160402-Kroger-Roanoke-Bargaining-Committee

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Bargaining Update 10