Company Remains Firm on Health Care After Meeting with Union

Last week, we shared that we were scheduled to meet with Local 455 and other UFCW locals on March 9 to further discuss options on health care. 

During these meetings, the union continued to press for a health and welfare trust fund to administer your benefits.

We once again shared with the union that for the company to consider any other option, the union’s proposal must meet or beat the benefits offered through the company plan. The union failed to make any proposals that would change our stance that the company plan is the best option for the more than 8,000 associates currently enrolled in a Kroger plan.

Because we are obligated to continue to meet with the union and consider options that they propose, the parties have agreed to meet again on Monday, March 15. We will continue to keep you updated on the results of these meetings.

Thank you for all that you do to serve our customers, communities, and each other. Be safe and well!

 

Kroger Houston Responds

Positive Changes Taking Shape for Associates

We are proud of the Kroger family’s response to the latest challenges facing Texas and our communities right here in Houston. We know it hasn’t been easy, and we appreciate and recognize your commitment to serving our customers when they need us most.

In response to the historic winter storms in Texas:

  • Kroger has donated more than $800,000 in water and monetary donations to both Houston and Dallas operating areas.
  • The Kroger Co. Foundation donated $180,000 to the City of Houston Winter Storm Relief Fund and $190,000 to the Dallas Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.
  • Houston and Dallas stores have also set up an opportunity for customers to donate to the American Red Cross, a major disaster relief partner of The Kroger Co. Foundation, which contributes $500,000 annually to the Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program.
  • To date, the Kroger Helping Hands Fund has provided over $330,000 to more than 500 associates requesting emergency financial aid in the aftermath of the winter storm. If you need emergency financial aid, please see your HR manager or log into FEED and search for Helping Hands. You can now apply for assistance online and off the network!

Looking ahead, we are excited to see the positive changes we have been working on take shape, including wage increases, a stronger healthcare plan, and opportunities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Your Safety

Despite the recent announcement ending Texas’ mask mandate, we will continue to require everyone in our stores in Texas and across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

We are working tirelessly to ensure you and your colleagues on the frontlines are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. We continue to advocate to federal, state, and local officials to prioritize you and your co-workers for the vaccine rollout plan. As a reminder, Kroger is encouraging every associate to receive the vaccine, and offering a $100 one-time payment after receiving all the recommended doses of the vaccine.

A Pay Raise

As you know, all associates have received pay raises within the last six months. Top-rate associates and department heads received wage increases on October 4, 2020. Associates in wage progressions recently received increases ranging from $.40 to $2.00 per hour, depending on position. These wage increases went into effect on February 7 and were reflected in your February 18 paycheck.  Top-rate associates and department heads will receive their next increase effective on August 8, 2021.

Our average hourly wage in Houston is now more than $14.50 per hour; however that average hourly rate goes up to nearly $19 per hour when you factor in our comprehensive benefits, including the more than $102 million in health care and pension costs paid out by the division. As a reminder, these are benefits that many of our competitors don’t offer.

Better Healthcare

January 1, 2021 also brought about great improvements in the healthcare options available to you and your family. To date, more than 8,000 Houston associates and their families have their benefits provided through a Kroger health care plan.

This plan brings increased stability, security, and affordability to your healthcare coverage – a stark contrast to the unanticipated benefit reductions that occurred under your old healthcare administered by the South-Central Health and Welfare Trust Fund.

We fought hard to ensure that an Anthem – Blue Cross Blue Shield plan offered on behalf of Kroger provides you with solid, affordable health care coverage in 2021 and beyond. We hope you are seeing all the great benefits and perks of having a company plan.

Strong Retirement

In 2020, Kroger committed nearly $1 billion to secure pensions for tens of thousands of our associates across the country, including many here in Houston.

Negotiations Update

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been having conversations with UFCW Local 455 in order to try and reach an overall agreement. Your union still continues to press for a health and welfare trust fund to administer your benefits.

We continue to remain firm that the company plan you are currently enrolled in is the best option for Houston associates. We have communicated to your union that for the company to consider any other option, the union’s proposal must meet or beat the benefits offered through the company plan.

We are meeting with Local 455 and other UFCW locals on Tuesday, March 9 to further discuss options on health care. We will update you on these discussions next week.

Thank you for all that you do to serve our customers, communities, and each other. Be safe and well!

Wage Increases Effective February 7

Thank you for your continued commitment to our customers and your patience throughout the bargaining process. We have nothing new to report on negotiations other than we are continuing to have open dialogue with Local 455.

Wage Increases

We have good news to share with associates in wage progressions. Effective for hours worked beginning February 7, 2021, associates in progressions will receive a pay increase, ranging from $.40 to $2.00, depending on position. Your store leader can share what the pay increase may mean for you. New wages will be reflected in your February 18, 2021 paycheck and can be viewed in Express HR on February 12th.

Keep in mind department heads and top-rate associates – who received increases in October 2020 – will not receive an increase at this time, but will receive their next increase effective August 8, 2021.

We hope these regular pay increases continue to reaffirm our commitment and investment in you.

As a reminder, these wage increases are part of our Last, Best and Final Offer which included other positive changes, including:

  • Stable and secure health care through a company-administered plan, beginning January 1, 2021
  • Minimum hours increased from 15 hours to 18 hours per week
  • Personal holidays accumulate more quickly – on January 1, 2021, nearly 5,700 associates gained an additional personal holiday
  • Part-time Meat clerks gained an extra week of vacation, beginning January 1, 2021

Vaccine News

We continue to encourage and work with federal and state governments to have our associates included on the priority list for the vaccine. We have started to offer the vaccine to associates as it becomes available to those that have been prioritized. We strongly encourage you to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to you. Please check with your pharmacist or local health department on availability.

 

Understanding Your Rights and Options

We continue to hear about union activity, including discussing the possibility of a strike with associates and, in some cases, even encouraging associates to walk out during their shift.

We understand that a potential work stoppage creates uncertainties for you and your family. If the union calls for a strike, you may continue to work or choose to strike. The decision is yours and yours alone to make. Your store leader has more information on your rights during a strike, including if you want to continue to work during a work stoppage.

We have also heard that the union is not responding to associates’ repeated requests to withdraw their membership as well as the union not having a working fax machine to receive withdraw notices.  This is not the first we’ve heard of these concerns.

Earlier this year, a Kroger Houston associate reportedly experienced similar difficulties in attempting to resign his union membership and revoke his dues checkoff authorization with UFCW Local 455, and sought assistance from the National Labor Relations Board with help from the National Right to Work Foundation to accomplish his goal.

WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING THAT ASSOCIATES RESIGN FROM THE UNION OR PURSUE ANY PARTICULAR COURSE OF ACTION IN THIS MATTER.

We believe that the company has a duty to inform our associates of general rights under the law and we have attempted to do so.  The choice is our associates’ and theirs alone.

Union-Related Paycheck Deductions to Stop Until Further Notice

We have heard from many associates that continue to be frustrated with UFCW Local 455’s refusal to allow a vote on our Last, Best and Final Offer.

Many of you are also asking about the possibility of a work stoppage and what that means for you and your family. We hope the union does not call for a strike. No one wins in a strike.

If the union does call a strike, the decision to strike or continue to work is yours and yours alone to make.  You have rights during a strike. Your store leader has information that explains what those rights are and your options if you want to continue working during a strike.

What happens next?

Last week, we notified UFCW Local 455 that with the pay period beginning November 29, we will no longer deduct union dues, initiation fees or other union-related deductions from associates’ paychecks until further notice.

What does that mean for you?

If you have been having union dues taken out of your paycheck, effective with your December 10 paycheck you will not have union dues deducted.

To keep informed talk with your store leader, visit www.krogerhoustoncba.com and FEED or you can call our hotline and ask a question at 713-507-4840.

Nobody Wins with a Strike

We have heard that the union is taking a strike authorization vote next week. You can influence this decision by voting for what is right for you and your family at one of the meetings that the union will be holding.

Unfortunately, this means we must be prepared in the event the union gets strike authorization and chooses to take this action.

That’s why you will see us making contingency plans and advertising for temporary employees. This is not something we want to do but must do so we can continue to run our business and meet customers’ needs during the current pandemic should a work stoppage occur.  We hope the union won’t take this course.

The union uses a strike threat as a tactic because they believe it puts pressure on the company. In reality, it puts stress on you. It makes your work life and paycheck uncertain.

  • A strike threat here is wrong. We are investing significantly in your wages, health care and pension in our Last, Best, and Final Offer. Why won’t the union give you the opportunity to vote on those investments? Instead they are asking you to authorize a strike and disrupt your lives!
  • A strike threat also makes no logical sense. Can the union really expect to get a better contract by striking and harming the company financially?
  • No one wins with a strike. We believe it always does harm and is never any good for anyone.

The union may try to convince you otherwise.

Ask yourself:  

Would you and other associates be better off if a strike is called by the union and you don’t receive a paycheck from the company?

OR

Would you and other associates be better served if the union would allow you to vote on our Last, Best and Final Offer which includes wage increases, stable, reliable and affordable health care and pension investments for your retirement?  

The choice is yours.

Do what is right for you and your family.

Update on Meetings with Local 455 this Week

Kroger Houston and Local 455 remain at impasse in negotiations.

We spent much of our time this week listening to Local 455’s proposal to merge the South-Central Health and Welfare Fund into the Memphis Health and Welfare Fund. The Memphis Fund is the same type of health and welfare trust fund as South-Central.

During our discussions, we asked specific questions surrounding the effective date of the proposal, contribution rates for our associates, which service providers the plan would utilize, and the stability of the Memphis Fund. The Union has requested more time to be able to answer these questions.

As we’ve mentioned previously, the following items are critical for our associates as we have outlined and provided for in our Company-administered plan:

  • affordability and stability
  • modern plan design
  • economies of scale
  • and administrative transparency

Remember: Open Enrollment in the Kroger plan for your health care benefits, effective January 1, 2021, begins November 2nd and runs through November 20th.

Look for More Money in Your October 15 Paycheck

Just a quick reminder that effective October 4, 2020, Kroger implemented the wage package from our Last, Best and Final Offer. These new wages will be reflected in your October 15 paycheck. That’s good news and means:

  • Increased pay for department heads, assistant department heads, leads, and top-rate part-time and full-time associates
  • Increased premiums for leads in Floral, Dairy, eCommerce and Backdoor Receivers
  • Increased premiums for Assistant Department Heads
  • A new $1.00 premium for both full-time and part-time night crew associates

Associates in wage scales benefit, too!

  • All other associates in the wage scale progression steps will continue to receive their regularly scheduled six-month increase from the date of their last increase.
  • For associates that received a progression increase on April 5, 2020, your six-month increases went into effect on October 4, 2020 and will be reflected on your October 15 paycheck, too.
  • And don’t forget, on February 7, 2021, associates in the current wage scale will move to the new wage scale and will receive an increase as part of our Last, Best and Final Offer wage implementation.

Kroger extends availability of prior offer, including Ratification Bonus – your vote counts

We have heard from many of you that you would like to have the opportunity to vote and have the opportunity to receive the Ratification Bonus for eligible top-rated associates, leads, assistant department heads and department heads.

  • Kroger has extended the availability of its prior offer, including the Ratification Bonus, if the offer is ratified on or before October 17, 2020. We hope your union allows you to vote, have a voice and decide whether our Last, Best and Final Offer is good for you and your family. If you would like to vote, make sure the union hears from you!
  • You can download and review our Last, Best and Final Offer for Clerks and Meat or ask your store leader for a copy.

Your benefits for 2021 – enroll in the company-administered plan

  • Open enrollment for 2021 benefits in the Kroger-administered plan is November 2 through November 20.
  • Look for our Transitions newsletters, which will help guide you through the open enrollment process.
  • Remember, your benefit plan is funded and sponsored by Kroger. Under the terms of our Last, Best, and Final offer, that is the company-administered plan. If you don’t enroll for the company-administered plan, you will not have health care coverage effective January 1, 2021.
  • Our Kroger Benefits Service Center is available to take your calls and address your concerns 7 days a week at 1-877-373-3397. You can also send an email to krogerbenefits@kroger.com.

We Hear You!

Over the last few weeks, we have heard your frustrations and concerns on not being able to vote and have a voice on our Last, Best and Final Offer, including missing out on the earlier Ratification Bonus.

We want you to have the opportunity to have that extra money in your pocket – in addition to the wage increases we are implementing effective October 4.

Today, we communicated with Local 455 that our Last, Best and Final Offer, including a new Ratification Bonus, is back on the table and asked again that you be allowed to vote on the offer.

One-time Ratification Bonuses would be paid if the offer is ratified on or before

October 17, 2020:

  • $600 – Department Heads
  • $500 – Full-Time Top Rate Associates
  • $300 – Part-Time Top Rate Associates

All the other terms in our offer still stand. You can download and review our Last, Best and Final Offer for Clerks and Meat or ask your store leader for a copy.

We hope the union gives you the opportunity to vote on this offer and have a voice that they claim you should have. If you want to vote, speak with your union representative.

Thank you for all that you are doing to take care of your customers and each other.

Company Notifies Union on Implementation of Additional Items

As you know, we are moving forward with implementing the terms of our Last, Best and Final Offer initially with wage improvements and health care benefits through a company-administered plan. As a reminder, wage increases will be effective for all hours worked beginning on October 4, 2020. Your 2021 health care benefits will be provided through a company-administered plan effective January 1, 2021. Open enrollment information in the company plan will be provided soon.

Because we are at impasse, earlier today we informed Local 455 that we will be implementing additional items from our Last, Best and Final Offer. Effective immediately we will implement the following:

  • Minimum hours guarantee Increasing the minimum hours guarantee to 18 hours
  • Personal Holidays Associates will accumulate personal holidays more quickly beginning in 2021.
  • Vacation for Part-time Meat Beginning in January 2021, part-time Meat associates will receive a third week of pro-rated vacation after 10 years of service
  • Daily OT Overtime will continue to be paid daily but after 8.5 hours of work
  • Ability to Maximize Hours Allows associates to move within departments, including clerks assisting in the Meat department and Meat associates assisting in other departments
    • Clerks will not be operating cutting equipment or machinery within Meat department
    • Meat associates will not be assigned to Front-End duties
  • Vendor Stocking Allows vendors to stock all bulk foods products and sanitize bulk food bins

We also have FAQs for you to download and review.