Kroger workers say corporate is playing the “paycheck-to-paycheck” card
Sign says Do The Right Thing Kroger

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1059 told local Kroger members earlier this week: “To this point, there is no firm commitment from Kroger to return to the bargaining table, but we expect further communications from the Company this week.”

Since this letter, Kroger employees told the Free Press that 1059 has alerted union stewards they may give authorization to strike, which could occur today (Wednesday). UFCW 1059 represents 12,500 Kroger associates in 84 stores. Some are part-time, such as teenagers and those on the autism spectrum.

But there’s the difference – the majority of 1059 members work full-time and are longtime veterans of Kroger, like the 40-year union steward we spoke with, or those who stock our freezers for hours on end, drive a forklift in warehouses, or man the registers eight hours a day.

One thing the pandemic proved is that every community has a far greater dependence on fulltime grocery store workers than was once apparent.

But Kroger 1059 members told us the pandemic has not given them more power at the negotiating table. Instead, the fallout has them overworked, underpaid, and exhausted.

During this same time, corporate leadership and shareholders have pigged-out on what’s been good for business – the pandemic itself and now inflation. The Cincinnati-based grocery store giant Kroger, which now rivals Walmart, told the Motley Fool earlier this year it can generate over $4.2 billion of operating profit in 2022 compared to $3.5 billion in 2021.

Kroger veterans, a large group being single mothers, are the voting power within the 1059 membership. Three times they rejected their three-year contract and are now on the brink of joining a picket line. 

Members are discouraged and even angered with UFCW 1059’s handling of negotiations. Some told the Free Press these 1059-endorsed contracts are “abysmal.” The first rejected contract only offering, for instance, $.50 cent raises for years two and three.

But 1059 leadership now appears to be growing some backbone.

“We know that Kroger has been putting out quite a bit of information to employees and to the media,” wrote 1059 in its letter to members earlier this week. “Much of the Kroger information to employees is meant to split the membership. We must stay united during this difficult time.”

One veteran Kroger worker, a single-mother of a toddler, suggested to the Free Press what many 1059 rank-and-file members worry over – a strike that goes for weeks instead of days may not be tenable because too many live check-to-check.

“They know we live week-to-week, paycheck-to-paycheck, so that’s why they can push us around. Our jobs are already listed on Indeed,” said the single mother from the Northside.

The Free Press could not confirm whether Kroger job listings for temps is in response to a possible strike. A temporary Kroger retail associate makes just $22,000 a year.

In the summer of 2021 the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit from California, surveyed over 10,000 Kroger employees, and 63 percent said, “they didn’t earn enough monthly to cover basic expenses” and “36 percent worry about being evicted.”

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen – also a fervent Trump supporter who worked from home during the pandemic – made $20 million in 2020.

“They make a lot and pay the big dogs huge bonuses for sitting at home. We are the ones actually making them all their money we get very little making it for them,” said the single mother. “If we strike the bosses and scabs will do our jobs, but they don’t know how.”