Kroger Workers Will Rally in Wheeling Today Amid Contract Dispute

Photo by Mark Law Union employees of 11 Kroger stores in the Upper Ohio Valley are continuing negotiations on a new labor contract. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776KS gathered Tuesday at the Hollywood City Center Kroger to hold a brief rally and then hand out informational flyers to customers leaving or entering the store. Another rally is scheduled for this afternoon at the Mount de Chantal Road location in Wheeling.

STEUBENVILLE — Health care and better wages are the two main sticking points in negotiations between Kroger and its union employees.

The two sides will meet again on Friday, and, if an agreement isn’t reached, the union may call for a strike involving 11 stores in the Upper Ohio Valley. There are about 1,200 union members in the 11 stores.

Those stores are in Wheeling, Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville, Moundsville, Bellaire, Wellsburg, Weirton, Steubenville and Wintersville. Wheeling and Weirton have two stores each.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776KS rallied Tuesday at the Hollywood City Center Kroger. Union members are planning another rally for 4 p.m. today at the Mount de Chantal Road store in Wheeling, according to a union member who works for the store in Bellaire.

Tony Helfer, a union division director, said the current contract expired Aug. 4. The union overwhelmingly rejected an offer the company made, he said.

“We would prefer to work,” said Helfer. “We want a resolution, not a strike.”

Amy McCormick, Kroger corporate affairs manager, said Kroger Columbus Division is in negotiations with the union.

“Our goal with every negotiation is to provide our associates a competitive compensation package of wages and benefits,” said McCormick. “The union has the right to rally; however, the most productive thing the union can do is to work with the company in a manner that positively addresses those concerns.”

Helfer said there are many Kroger employees who are working paycheck to paycheck and on government assistance.

“Kroger has to do better,” he said.

Helfer said Kroger officials have said it would pull the health care for retirees.

Lisa Chuma, who works at the Wellsburg Kroger, said she is married with two children and has to receive government assistance.

“I can’t live like this,” she said. “I don’t want to be on government assistance. I want to be able to pay my own bills. Kroger needs to give us a living wage.”

Penny Williams, of the Wintersville Kroger, said many Kroger employees have little left of their paychecks after the bills are paid. She said she also is on government assistance, which goes to feed her son.

Chuck Taskalines, a retiree who worked at the Moundsville Kroger, said workers like him helped build the company.

“We did it on our knees and feet,” said Taskalines. “Now they want to take (health) insurance away from retirees. I sum it all up in two words: corporate greed.”

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