Kroger Co. makes new offer for union contracts in Cincinnati and Dayton

Union warned of possible health cuts in May

CINCINNATI - The Kroger Co. is getting closer to a contract covering 12,000 union employees in Cincinnati and 4,000 in Dayton. An update on the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75 website says “a number of outstanding issues” have been resolved and the company presented “a new comprehensive offer” this week.

“We are reviewing the proposal and expect the process to take about a week,” said the update.

UFCW spokeswoman Brigid Kelly declined to provide any details on the latest offer from Kroger. Company spokeswoman Rachael Betzler described the offer as "very good," but declined to provide details.

"The bargaining parties have been working together to develop a contract that rewards our associates and also enables the company to operate stores in a competitive and contemporary manner," Betzler said. "This offer does those things."

UFCW members in Cincinnnati are working under a contract extension that maintains wages and benefits from a contract that was scheduled to expire last October. Dayton employees have a contract that expires next June.

Negotiators have been working on proposals that would merge three union-operated health plans in Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo and combine the contracts covering Cincinnati and Dayton employees.

The goal is to reduce operating expenses and preserve health benefits, as WCPO reported in February

In May, the UFCW warned its members that health benefit cuts were possible.

“We are working on plan designs that will make changes to your health care as manageable as possible, but the company’s proposed budget would mean higher costs and benefit cuts for you,” said the May 28 bargaining update. “This is part of the reason why negotiations are taking so long.”

Kroger eliminated spousal coverage for its Indiana employees , as part of a contract covering 11,000 people. The company estimated 1,700 spouses would have to shop for new coverage through insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. Kroger provided a one-time payment of $1,000 to help with the transition.

One thing that's not being negotiated locally is pension restructuring. Kroger recently announced that it would make an additional $56 million contribution to pension plans covering about 350 King Soopers pharmacists in Denver and 1,700 employees and retirees in Washington state. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said the changes came from labor negotiations.

In Denver, he said, pharmacists wanted more freedom to manage their own investments in company-sponsored 401(k) plans. In Washington, the goal was to improve the financial position of a company-managed UFCW plan.

"You never know what's going to happen in the negotiation," McMullen said. "All I know is the unions and Kroger both have a desire to come up with creative solutions (that) secure the benefits they've already earned and give them a decent benefit accrual going forward."

The UFCW's Kelly said Cincinnati union members are covered under a different pension plan that's locked in place for 10 years and not part of the current contract talks.



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