- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 announced on Saturday it has halted a strike by workers at Kroger banners Fred Meyer and QFC in Oregon after reaching a tentative settlement with the grocer.
- The walkout, which began Friday morning, had been set to last until 12:01 a.m. Pacific time on Dec. 24. Workers will vote on the agreement during the next two weeks.
- Kroger's deal with the union represents the latest chapter in a dispute between the retailer and its workforce that stems back to the early days of the pandemic.
UFCW Local 555 officials did not immediately disclose the terms of the agreement they reached with Kroger over the weekend, but said the deal, if ratified by workers, would be "the best contract in UFCW 555 history."
The two sides had been at odds over wages, benefits and working conditions, with the union declaring on Friday that Kroger had declined "to deliver the wage increases that workers deserve" despite the hazards they face because of the pandemic.
On Dec. 11, the local, which represents grocery workers in Oregon and southwest Washington, announced its members had voted to authorize the strike. The local, which had been in talks with Kroger since July, said at the time that Kroger had engaged in "multiple unfair labor practices." In a statement, UFCW 555 President Dan Clay said Fred Meyer had refused "to provide information necessary for the Union to negotiate a new agreement and to process grievances."
According to the union, Kroger had offered to raise pay for long-term employees by 50 cents per hourly for the next two years and 40 cents during the third year and not offered an increase to the "vast majority" of the employees — terms it said were unacceptable.
But in announcing the tentative deal, the union local offered Kroger an olive branch: "We are pleased that Fred Meyer and QFC have recognized the ongoing hazard to its workers, with a settlement agreement that provides significant wage increases, added workplace protections, a secure retirement, and quality healthcare."
In a press release on Friday, Kroger said the strike, which affected stores in Portland, Bend, Newburg and Klamath Falls, Oregon, was "reckless," adding that it would keep the stores open despite the walkout. The grocer said it pays an average hourly wage to associates in Oregon of $17.29, and that when healthcare and retirement benefits are factored in, average total compensation is $22 per hour.
"At a time when we want to invest more than ever in wage increases and affordable health care, the UFCW has chosen disruption and the unknown for our associates and their families," Fred Meyer President Dennis Gibson said in a statement.
Kroger did not respond to the union's allegations that it had engaged in unfair labor practices.
Kroger's deal with UFCW Local 555 comes against the backdrop of a rocky relationship between the grocer and its workers that stems from its decision last year to stop its hazard pay program. Labor advocates have repeatedly criticized the move by Kroger and other grocery chains to abandon the extra pay they distributed at the start of the pandemic even as the industry basked in profits.