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Kroger Workers Take A Stand

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Communíty Shows Support MM MM Kroger workers" have now weathered over two weeks of picketing in the April cold and rain. They' ve gone without paychecks and have repelled Kroger management' s unionbusting tactics. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locáis 876 and 539 have been on strike since April 13 at 64 soutlieastem Michigan stores, including six Ann Arbor stores. They're driven by the belief that they're fighting for what they deserve, and are spurred on by an outpouring of community support. So far they've succeeded in significantly slowing down Kroger' s sales. It was apparent, in talking with strikers on the picket line, that they feel that Kroger has left them no option but to strike. Donna (only first names are being used at the strikers' request), for instance, has been working at Kroger for five years. She is a department head, in charge of the salad bar. She makes $6.61 an hour and has nine people working under her. For Donna, the strike is not about a wage increase. She says she is lucky that her husband has a well-paying job, which offsets her own low pay. She says she is mainly on strike to support her crew. Many of those working under her are single parents and can't make ends meet on $5.31hour. But health care, says Donna, is really at the crux of the matter. Normally a full-time store employee qualifies for health coverage after one year. However, a loophole in the contract does not include salad bar workers in the medical plan. "These people make $5.31 an hour. If they're sick one week and in the hospital, those three years of wages are down the tubes. That's why I'm on the picket lines," said Donna In the strike' s first week, Donna was assaulted by a strikebreaker. He shouted obscenities at her, picked her up by her coat, and threw her against the wall (for which she is pressing charges). She believes he was hired by üie company to provoke a fight on the picket line. The picketers, who are carefully instructed not to respond to violence with violence, merely approached the scab and stood there. She said that her assailant now enters work through the back door. Despite that incident, Donna rematas committcd. She said, "We' 11 stay out here as long as it takes. We're giving a message to the (see "KROGER STRIKE" page 10) KROGER STRIKE (from page one) American public - enough is enough." Others, such as Carol, are on the line to protest their own working conditions. She has been working at Kroger' s one year as a courtesy clerk. ín this position she filis in with whatever needs to be done. She cleans bathrooms, bags groceries, does price checks, and substitutes in any department that is short-staffed. For this work, Carol earns $4.25 an hour and receives no benefits. Kenny has been at his job for eight years. He now works 40 hours a week at $4.25 an hour. He has been offered a promotion to a position that would include a pay raise of $1.25 an hour. However, in this position he would only be allowed to work 28 hours per week. As a resul t, he would lose the benefits he now receives as a full-timer. "We would be happy to meet them [Kroger's management] half-way," said Kary, a Kroger employee of seven years. She worked her way up from a starting wage of $4 as a bagger to the top wage of $10.37 as a cashier. Kary considers herself fortúnate. "Alotof these peoplehaven'thadaraisein 1 1 years," she remarked. Now Kroger is offering an increaseof$l. 50 an hour over four years. In Kary 's view, this is not sufficient. She says Kroger's strike-breaking activities began with scab hirings, at wages higher than regular workers make. Kary believes that the company is encouraging strikebreakers to try to provokeviolenceonthelines.Shetoldofscabsharass- ing picketers, such as the one who carne out and mooned them. Kroger's management, she says, is also trying to buy customers with too-good-to-betrue food bargains. For instance, Kroger's has offered free cartons of 1 -dozen eggs, 2-liter bottles of soda for 29(t, and milk for 99? a gallon. Kary attributes these moves to attempts by Kroger to break the inórale of the picketers. "The way they figure it, if we don't have any money to feed our kids, we'll have to come back to work. They 're trying to starve us back to work." She does not believe that Kroger aclions are isolated or unusual. "Companies want to get rid of unions throughout the city. If it weren' t for the unión trying to help us, pretty soon we would all be screwed." Other strikers told of Kroger bringing in scab managers from stores in other parts of the country. They claimed that Kroger has spent more on flying in scab managers, housing them in hotels, and paying for their rental cars, than they would have paid to grant unión workers their full complement of sick and personal days (an issue under contention). They also feel that the approximately $90,000 per week Kroger is spending on full-page newspaper ads could be better spent on a fair contract. As I was speaking with workers on the picket line, Manager Ron Wiley, who oversees several área stores, walked through. I approached him on these mattere and he declined to be interviewed. Community Supports Strikers Fighting what many fear is a wave of unionbusting moves by área companies, many segmenta of the community are banding together in support of the Kroger workers. Representatives of many other área unions have joined Kroger workers on the Unes. The Gradúate Employees Organization (GEO), the u nion of gradúate student teaching assistants at U-M, passed a resolution in support of the workers at a recent membership meeting. On April 18 a delegation of 15 GEO members picketed with workers at the PlymouthNixon Rd. Kroger's. The Industrial Workers of the World ("Wobblies") have also employed creative tactics against Kroger. On the first day of the strike, several Wobblies entered stores and filled up shopping carts with groceries. At the checkout stands they confessed to the strikebreaker cashiers, "You know, I really can't bring myself to shop in a store which is trying to bust a unión. Have a nice day." They then walked out, leaving scabs to reshelve their items. Some Wobblies are currently unemployed as a result of the closing of the People's Food Wherehouse. They walked the Kroger picket line with signs reading: "I'm unemployed. I'm union. I'd starve before I'd scab!" On April 23 over 200 Detroit-area labor, women's, religious, and other community organizations held a planning meeting of solidarity actions. The LaborCommunity Coalition in Support of the Kroger's Strikers, which formed at the Detroit meeting, resolved to circuíate petitions, conduct mass leafletting and hold news conferences. In addition, they have undertaken an "Adopta-Store" program. This calis for individual groups within the Coalition to "adopt" a store at which they will particípate in picketing, holding rallies, and otherwise providing support to striking workers. A mass rally has been called for Saturday, May 2 at 10 am at the UFCW Hall in Madison Heights. The group will then march to area Kroger stores. An effort is now underway in Ann Arbor to form a similar coalition. The first meeting, hosted by GEO, was held Thursday, April 30. The gathering was addressed by striking Kroger workers, GEO President Torn Oko, and City Councilmember Anne Marie Coleman. For information on upcoming activities, contact the coalition through GEO at 995-0221. Many unions, locally, have walked with Kroger 's workers on the Unes. For example, the picketers at the Westgate Kroger's have been joined by the Pipefitters Union Local 302 of Cantón, AFSCME Locáis 1583and369, theAnnArbor Firefighters Union, United Steel Workers Association District 29, The Transportation Employees Union Local 171, UAW Región 1-Afrom Taylor, the National Association of Letter Carriers (American Postal Workers Union), and UAW Local 1776 from Willow Run. They have also been visited by folksinger Utah Phillips, who serenadedthem with protest and labor songs. Editor's note: As AGENDA went to press, we just recei ved this report f rom a worker on strike at the Westgate Kroger: At approximately 1 :30 pm today (April 29) a Kroger manager came out óf the store and informed picketers that he had received instructions from Kroger headquarters in Cincinnati that the picketers must remove their signs. Picketers called the UFCW office and were told only to remove their signs if ordered to do so by the pólice. Then, one hour later, nine men converged on the picket line. They pushed through the picketers, roughing one up and calling him obscenities. They grabbed, ripped, and took away picket signs. They threatened to remove the picketers' literature table if the picketers didn't remove it themselves. Picketers demanded that the men identify themselves. At first the men refused, then as they were leaving one said he was from Risk Management and was working for Kroger. Risk Management is the security company Kroger normally hires to prevent shoplifting. The worker who called our office (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals) said, "We're out here conducting ourselves peacefully and with dignity. I can't believe they [Kroger management] resorted to this kind of thuggery. I wonder what will be next."