HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- During this holiday season, thousands of local Kroger workers are calling for better pay and for the company to stop healthcare cuts.
"Because we've moved our associates to the Kroger Stronger plan, the union is threatening to strike and that's the bottom line. This is what it's all about," said Laura Gump, president of the Houston division of Kroger.
Gump said the company made recent improvements when it comes to healthcare and wages.
"We focused on pushing hard to give them a $56 million investment in pay wages and, really, this comes down to during a pandemic our associates should be taken care of health care wise and we just can't do without it and we are going to continue really fighting for them because at the end of the day they are the ones doing the tough work in our stores," said Gump.
However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 455, who represent 14,000 local Kroger workers said they do not see it that way. Their president, Brandon Hopkins, released the following statement:
"Even as Kroger has made billions in profits during this pandemic, the company has proposed a contract that would force these essential workers to pay more for healthcare and would reduce full-time positions that are vital to providing the strong customer service shoppers deserve."
The union said they are going back to the negotiation table with Kroger next week, which means a strike impacting last-minute Thanksgiving shopping is unlikely.
"While the local union wants to bargain immediately, I am happy to announce that thanks to this incredible display of member support and unity, Kroger has set a bargaining date with your union for November 30th. While we know there is much more negotiating to do, returning to the bargaining table offers the hope that Kroger will finally do what is right. After sacrificing so much over these many difficult months, you have earned and deserve a better life and a contract that rewards your hard work. This Thanksgiving, remember to thank each other, your fellow members and co-workers, for never giving up and standing together as one union family," said Hopkins in a statement to ABC13 Wednesday evening.
Gump said they have a plan in place if the local workers do decide to strike.
"We have a very strong contingency plan in case there was a strike and we are ready to keep our stores running and our shelves full and our associates working, so we have a plan that is foolproof," said Gump.
David Quan, a local labor attorney, explains workers are in a stronger negotiation position than they have been in a long time, thanks to a smaller labor pool.
"I think that we've wound up in this situation with a tighter labor pool because of a couple of things that have happened. It's COVID-19, it's people being very stressed out from work and wanting to walk away from those situations...and then also you have a smaller labor pool because of more restrictive immigration policies as well as the decrease in immigration because of COVID," said Quan.
Negotiations continue amidst busy holiday season between local union and Kroger
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