Inflation Is Too High to Settle; We Want a Good Contract!


George Fish is a Kroger worker and rank-and-file member of UFCW Local 700 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Fish has a B.A. in economics from Indiana University Bloomington, is a trained paralegal, and a freelance labor journalist. He gives insights on current contract negotiations as workers grow fed up with bosses underpaying them amid rising inflation eating into what they bring home with every paycheck.

Talks continue between the UFCW negotiating committee and Central Indiana Kroger after the membership rejected the presented contract. In my Kroger store in Indianapolis, the mood is feisty, and many of my fellow workers are prepared to strike if necessary to get a good contract. 

Despite making massive profits, Kroger just doesn't want to give anything but peanuts, offering  a wage increase of 65 cents/hour, then 50 cents/hour for the next two years – only half of what we're presently facing in inflation, which is standing at 8.3-8.6%. In other words, this "contract" means we, the workers, lose money both immediately and during the three years of the new contract. 

It’s no surprise the union turned it down, and among many of my co-workers, turned it down angrily.

Talk among us workers was that we wanted our union negotiating committee to ask for an increase of $4/hour, and settle for a raise of $2/hour. Back when COVID first erupted in March 2020, our union, UFCW Local 700, negotiated with Kroger to have $2/hour added to our pay as hazard pay. That lasted about a month, then Kroger dropped it completely, and spurned the union when it tried to get our pay back. Kroger also rescinded sick pay for workers quarantined for COVID, so workers who came down with it later had to endure two weeks of quarantine without pay.

Do The Math

Everyone needs groceries, and the company’s sales increased during the pandemic, and so did the profits. I’m told my particular store, J-100, on the Indianapolis east side, is Kroger's most profitable in the Midwest – and Kroger has stores all over Indianapolis, plus stores in all the outlying suburbs, often several in the same suburb. 

Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the United States, and is ranked third in overall retailers in the country according to the National Retail Federation, right up there with biggies such as Amazon and Walmart.

Kroger’s most recent revenue totaled $13.5 billion. The company’s goal is to increase operating profit from $3.5 billion to $4.2 billion. But 60% of all Kroger employees nationwide make less than $16/hour according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Company Wage Tracker. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen, on the other hand, has received generous raises while the income of the median Kroger worker dropped from above $26,000 in 2020 to somewhat above $24,000 in 2021.

To add insult to injury, Kroger added the notorious Elaine Chao, who was George W. Bush’s hostile-to-unions secretary of labor and Mitch McConnell’s wife, to the board of directors. In fact, Kroger's press release on her joining the board bragged about it!

While at this date, June 25, no further meetings between Kroger and the union's bargaining committee are scheduled, me and my fellow Kroger workers are avidly watching the contract negotiations until the present contract expires on July 15. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is involved in the negotiations. 

We are determined. Many of us feel we've settled for too many weak contracts in the past. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a weak contract is turned down a second time, or if a majority of Central Indiana's 8,000 Kroger workers are willing to go on strike to ensure a decent contract – one we employees can honestly live with.