Kroger makes a deal after a one-day strike

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Outside the Hawthorne Fred Meyer store in Southeast Portland, spirits were high the morning the strike began. Most employees hadn’t yet been born the last time Local 555 struck the company, in 1994. From left: Amanda Hill, Annette Lowman, Nicole Rushing, Dylan Petulla, Andrea Kessler, Holly Sprague, and Trenton Snyder. |  PHOTO BY DON MCINTOSH

By DON McINTOSH

Starting 6 a.m. Dec. 17, over 7,000 Fred Meyer and QFC workers in and around Portland, Bend, Newberg, and Klamath Falls walked off the job to begin a strike. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 planned for a five-day strike during one of the busiest shopping times of the year. But parent company Kroger had enough on Day One, and made a contract offer that Local 555 says will be the best it’s ever had. Union members ratified the new set of agreements in a series of votes held Dec. 22 to 30.

Over its three-year term, the agreements will raise wages $3 an hour for all journey-level employees, and $5.05 an hour for employees who work in what Fred Meyer calls “CCK,” which stands for central checkout. Those cashiers, mostly female, have been underpaid compared to cashiers on the grocery side. Now they’ll be paid the same as of Aug. 7, 2022. The new agreements phase out separate contracts for CCK and fold them into the grocery contracts.

[pullquote]People in the community were amazing. They came out, they brought us coffee. Some of them carried picket signs.” —Hawthorne Fred Meyer employee Annette Lowman[/pullquote]The contracts also attain a long-sought milestone: A $15 an hour starting wage. As of July, that will be $0.25 above the Portland-area minimum wage, and the contract maintains that premium each time the state minimum wage rises for inflation. Fred Meyer workers don’t stay at the starting wage for long: A step-pay schedule mandates a raise after 600 hours and again 10 times until they reach the journey-level wage after 7,800 hours, about four years at full time. For grocery workers and meatwrappers, journey pay is now $19.85 (except “Schedule B” workers in deli and bakery, where it’s $17.20). For meatcutters, it’s $22.29.

For workers whose contracts were expired, the first-year raises are retroactive, and they’ll get a lump sum in the next 90 days to make them whole for the raises they would have gotten if agreement had been reached sooner.

Before the strike, bargaining had dragged on for months without agreement. The strike—the first Fred Meyer strike by Local 555 members in 27 years—appears to have made all the difference in getting an offer the union could recommend to members. 

“I was just so impressed with the camaraderie and how everybody was so connected in this cause,” said Annette Lowman, 73, a Hawthorne Fred Meyer employee who collects groceries for online orders. “It was extremely positive just to feel like I was a part of something.”

“And people in the community were amazing,” Lowman said. “They came out, they brought us coffee. Some of them carried picket signs.”

The new set of agreements run from Aug. 8, 2021 to Aug. 10, 2024. The settlement applies to all Fred Meyer workers in Local 555’s jurisdiction of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

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