Stewards from W.Va., Ky., and Ohio participated in a mock contract negotiations at the Steward Seminar held in Charleston, W.Va. June 13.

CHARLESTON, W. Va.—Committing themselves to mobilizing members and staying united in Solidarity, 125 shop stewards from West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio met on June 13 to prepare for upcoming Kroger contract negotiations, and to discuss the state of the economy, the grocery market and the political scene.

“Action begins with you, the shop steward,” said Federici. “The stronger you all are, the stronger our workplace are, the stronger our members are, and then the stronger and better contract were going to get when we wrestle this company [Kroger] come October.”

Federici introduced Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, who shared his views on the overall picture of West Virginia labor and politics. He began by asking the stewards a question they get asked daily:What do you do?” As whispered answers came from different areas of the room Matheney followed up by saying,On a daily basis you promote justice in the workplace, it’s just that simple.”

In West Virginia, 13-14 percent of the total workforce is union. Local 400 is one of 550 local unions in West Virginia affiliated with the state’s AFL-CIO, which has 140,000 active and retired members.

“Throughout West Virginia, many of the local unions I’ve visited, including my own for a time, said there would be no progress or justice without struggle,” said Matheney. “That’s why being an activist is a key to solving the struggles we face today.”

Matheney encouraged voter registration for the October 4 special election for governor. He categorized himself in the political realm as a “labor guy,” encouraging voters to look into their hearts and the politicians’ to vote for the candidate who best puts food on the table for themselves and their families. “Public policy affects everything we do, he said. By being active in politics, the community, and labor councils, it shows that “you’re the power.”

Local 400 Member Education Coordinator, Breanne Armbrust introduced the interactive exercise of mock contract negotiations. The purpose of the activity was to show the stewards how bargaining is done and the give and take that is required to get both parties the best contract possible.

The stewards were divided into five meeting rooms to make for a more intimate experience. In each room, the stewards separated in to two groups. One group acted as the union and the other represented the company. Some members who were playing the role of the company found it difficult to step into the company’s shoes.

“I’ve never been on this side before,” said Local 400 member Dave Cunningham, who works at Kroger #781. “It’s tough to start thinking in reverse after having so many years being on the union side of things.”

It wasn’t long until the members playing the role of management became comfortable in negotiating in the company’s best interest as verbal exchanges flew back and forth across the table, with the bargaining focused on health, welfare and pension benefits. Stewards came out of the exercise with a greater appreciation of the challenges before them and with a stronger realization of the need for member activism and unity.

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