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Unionized Kroger Workers Protest

A group of people marching in a circle outside of a large brick Kroger building.
Jahd Khalil

Unionized employees of the Kroger supermarket chain have been protesting for the past two weeks over worries that negotiations between their union and Kroger will result in worse health care.

Outside of a Kroger branch in Mechanicsville on Thursday, Lisa Harris wore a blue and gold jersey with the number 400 on it.

“They breathe a little bit more, so it was a strategic thing,” she said. “It's hot out here, but we're still out here trying to get a fair contract.”

Harris and other members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400 are protesting the company’s movement towards changing their health care.

Currently the union and Kroger both contribute to a trust fund, and mutually manage it. The company wants to shift to a fund controlled wholly by the company, union reps said. Union reps are afraid their 1,200 members could face more expensive and lower-quality healthcare after that shift in management.

“I just want to try to get the best healthcare coverage I can get for myself,” said Claudia Villa Lovos, a cashier at the Kroger of the protest. “I'm getting older...and I want to make sure that I have good healthcare in case anything were to happen to me.”

These workers see themselves as front-line workers, and that their healthcare matters especially during the pandemic.

“Working under the pandemic is no joke,” she said. “You never know who you can run into that can carry it and pass it onto you.”

Alan Hanson of UFCW Local 400’s executive committee said Kroger’s expansion in the Richmond and Virginia Beach area made the healthcare negotiations especially important.

“The question is: Are those jobs that are being created in the Richmond [and] Virginia Beach area...are they going to continue to be good union paying jobs with good affordable health care with a secure retirement? Or are they going to be race to the bottom, low wage, no benefits, no retirement security, non-union jobs?”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Kroger Mid-Atlantic said the trust fund isn’t meeting the needs of Kroger’s workers.

“There are many ongoing issues with the fund and the company is trying to address these in negotiations,” the statement reads. “The company hopes the negotiations result in higher wages and affordable health care benefits.”

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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