Kroger sign in front of store and face of Kroger executive

In the aftermath of the pandemic, a worker uprising could soon boil over at Kroger stores throughout Central Ohio. The uprising is not only in response to their ultra-wealthy corporate leaders, but also towards their union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1059, headquartered on Columbus’ far east side.

Over the previous 45 days, Kroger associates, who’s current contract ended August 6th, twice voted ‘No’ to a new three-year contract. The “No” vote happened even though both contracts had been endorsed by UFCW 1059, as first reported by World Socialist Web Site or

“This [second contract] was just reworded, but we all knew it was the same contract as the one we just turned down,” said a Kroger employee who refused having their name published out fear of retaliation.

UFCW 1059 represents 12,500 Kroger associates in 82 stores in both central and southern Ohio, and UFCW 1059 President Randy Quickel told the Free Press that negotiations with Kroger corporate will resume on September 9th.

“We will have to wait and see what happens after this next round of negotiations,” said Quickel, who would only offer a statement and refused questions.

In the meantime, a Columbus Kroger employee and union steward told the Free Press they could soon vote to strike. The union steward, who will also remain anonymous, saying a growing majority wants to vote “Yes” to a walkout, and that UFCW 1059 is slowly coming on board to this possibility.

Earlier this week UFCW 1059 sent a survey to all members regarding the two rejected contracts.

“Wages are the primary concern for those who have responded to the survey,” wrote UFCW 1059 in a follow-up email. “We appreciate everyone’s suggestions, and we recognize the desire to exercise our leverage by taking a strike authorization vote. At the conclusion of these negotiations (starting September 9th), we will include a vote for the tentative agreement and a strike authorization vote. A strike authorization does not mean we will immediately go on strike.”

Kroger employees said the next contract vote will be taken in the actual stores, giving every employee a significantly better opportunity to cast a vote. Both previous contract votes took place over two days in four different locations around Columbus, which discouraged voting by many members who live and work far outside I-270. The anonymous union steward said the in-store voting decision was due to member complaints that UFCW 1059 was trying to “suppress the vote.”

Other Kroger employees told the Free Press there’s increasing concern that UFCW 1059 has not been on the “up-and-up.”

“One hundred percent they [UFCW 1059] are in collusion with Kroger corporate,” believes another employee.

Kroger UFCW 1059 members have also aired concerns on a Facebook page first created by Kroger employees from Indianapolis who are also discouraged with UFCW. The page, Kroger Workers Rank-and-File Forum, states, “This is a group for workers and supporters only, free of censorship and intimidation from management and their union stooges.”

The two rejected UFCW 1059-endorsed contracts offered what some Kroger workers believed were “insulting” pay raises for long-time employees not at cap pay – $.65 cents for the first year, and $.50 cents for each of the next two years, even though inflation is around 8.5 percent. Those at cap pay will receive bonuses, such as $2,500 for department heads, but which will be heavily taxed, said anonymous workers.

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.

Yet the pandemic proved that every community has a far greater dependence on grocery store workers than was once apparent. Within super-spreader settings, those who stock our freezers and work our registers – for eight or more hours a day – risked their lives so the community could meet its basic needs, such as providing baby formula.

Besides wearing masks for nearly two years, they dealt with privileged customers who, in some instances, admonished them for wearing a mask while demanding they go find toilet paper, non-GMO unsweetened almond milk, and other requests.

The pandemic and inflation also proved good for business, at least for Kroger corporate including its board members and Kroger shareholders (who have never worked a day in their lives for Kroger). Dividend payouts are coveted by shareholders and Kroger has increased its dividend payout five times over the previous five years.

What’s more, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen – also a fervent Trump supporter who made $20 million while working from home in 2020 –authorized a $1 billion stock buyback purchase at the end of 2021. Any financial expert will tell you that stock buybacks will mostly make Kroger executives and board members more insanely rich in lieu of investing the money back to workers.

As the Communications Workers of America (CWA) stated, it was “One of the most glaring examples of corporate greed.”

UFCW 1059 Kroger members told the Free Press the union would pay a percentage of their wages if they were to strike. Quickel said no such statement was given members.

According to the World Socialist Web Site – one of just two news outlets covering this local labor story (which includes the Free Press) – the national UFCW office controls $436 million in assets, but only distributed roughly $800,000 in strike pay during 2021.