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Kanawha City Kroger grocery (copy)

The Kroger grocery store in Charleston's Kanawha City neighborhood.

A “last, best offer” from Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division has been forwarded to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 membership as talks toward a new collective bargaining agreement between the regional union and national grocery chain continue. A vote will be collected Nov. 3-5, with the results announced Nov. 6.

It’s the latest development between the two parties as they try to come together for a contract and avoid a possible labor stoppage.

The original contract, ratified in 2017, expired Aug. 29. A four-week extension elapsed at the end of last month, and a day-to-day extension that can be cancelled with 72-hours notice by either party is currently in place as negotiations continue.

Kroger’s latest offer was presented last week and then forwarded to Local 400’s bargaining advisory committee, which is comprised of a group of seven store associates. The committee chose to forward the proposal to the union membership for a vote.

Among the points of contention are alterations to health care benefits for associates, as well as the reduction or elimination of other perks for employees with seniority.

“We are making a significant investment in our associates,” said Paula Ginnett, president of Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division. “The offer we have presented adds more to our associate’s paychecks, while providing them with premium health care coverage at affordable rates.”

Whether that union accepts it remains to be seen.

“Our primary concern right now is that Kroger is trying to gut health care in the middle of a pandemic, and we don’t find that acceptable,” said Local 400 spokesman Jonathan Williams. “The fact they’re even discussing major cuts to the benefits of workers in West Virginia is bonkers.”

Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division operates more than 100 stores in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee with roughly 18,000 associates. A large chunk of those employees are members of Local 400, which represents more than 35,000 people in retail food and department stores, health care, food processing services and other industries across the Mid-Atlantic states.

The vote and any communication processes will differ from past events because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members would traditionally gather in a large venue to go through the proposal line by line, answer questions and then vote via paper ballots. Instead, the process will be held through a virtual town hall with votes collected in individual stores. On-hand witnesses would normally overlook the vote-counting process, but this year it will be conducted on a live video stream and recorded.

In the event the proposal is rejected, Williams said talks will continue but that a work stoppage could happen if a deal isn’t agreed upon soon. He said a two-thirds super-majority approval from the membership is required to authorize a strike.

“We haven’t ruled anything out right now,” Williams said. “It’s certainly in the realm of possibility.”

Reach Scott Hamilton at shamilton@wvgazettemail.com or (304) 348-4886.