Unionized employees at Kroger stores in the Richmond region and Hampton Roads ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the supermarket chain that gives them pay raises.
The three-year agreement, which takes effect next month, also provides additional vacation time and maintains the health care plan as a trust fund that workers and the company both pay into and manage.
The contract covers 3,100 workers at 21 stores in the Richmond region and Hampton Roads. The current contract expired on Aug. 7.
After weeks of negotiations, Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents the Kroger employees, reached a tentative agreement on Aug. 6. The union bargaining committee unanimously recommended the contract be ratified.
Voting took place this week on Wednesday and Thursday and the votes were counted Friday. Union members voted 358-12 in favor of adopting the new contract, the union said.
Keeping the current health care plan was a point of contention for the union.
Kroger had wanted to eliminate the current model and switch to a plan entirely controlled by the company.
Maintaining the health care trust fund was the biggest surprise in the contract, said Nicole Turpin, who works at the Kroger store on Rittenhouse Drive off Hull Street Road in Chesterfield County and served on the union bargaining committee.
“We were very surprised and happy with the changes made to the contract,” she said, noting that the deal puts real money into the pockets of store employees.
In July and early August, the union held a series of demonstrations outside area Kroger stores to protest the proposed changes the company wanted to make to the health care plan.
Under the new contract, starting salaries for entry-level full-time clerks will increase to $12.35 an hour from the current $10, beginning on Sept. 26. The part-time entry-level rate increases from $9.50 to $12.35 per hour.
Anyone earning $12 or less an hour will move to the $12.35-an-hour pay level. Workers making between $12.25 and $13.50 will earn $14.10 an hour under the new contract. And employees making $14 and above will start earning $15.85 an hour.
Workers at the lower pay scale will get a pay raise of 35 cents an hour on Dec. 25, 2022, and another pay increase of 35 cents on Dec. 31, 2023. Workers at the higher pay scales will get either a 40-cents-an-hour increase or a 45-cents-an-hour increase on those dates.
The new contract calls for employees to get annual raises instead of increases every six months.
“The increase in wages was a shock,” said Turpin, who has worked for the company for 21 years. “We really didn’t think Kroger would offer this amount in wages.”
Kroger said it will invest $27 million in wage increases and benefits during the term of the contract.
“Under the terms of the new agreement, associates will receive significant pay increases, affordable and comprehensive health care, and continued investment in their pension fund,” said Lori Raya, president of the Kroger Mid-Atlantic division, which is based in Henrico County. “The new agreement comes after thoughtful and productive work by both the company and the union bargaining committees.”
The agreement also gives part-timers a third week of vacation after working seven years. Those workers currently get a maximum of two weeks of vacation after being with the company for three years. Full-time workers get a third week of vacation after seven years instead of after eight years under the current contract.
“The associates were happy about the pay raises, and the part-timers were happy about the extra week of vacation being added,” Turpin said.
Kroger, which has 18 area stores, captured the No. 2 share of the region’s grocery market for the 12 months that ended March 31, according to trade publication Food World. The chain’s year-over-year sales at its area stores rose 6%, or by $36.3 million.