Food 4 Less Union Reps Say Contract Talks Unsuccessful

Food 4 Less Opens First Store In Chicago

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The union representing thousands of Food 4 Less workers announced Wednesday that two days of negotiations with management failed to produce an agreement on a new contract, but it has agreed to return to the bargaining table Monday in hopes of avoiding a strike.

Food 4 Less has 15 stores in the Los Angeles area and is a subsidiary of The Kroger Co., which also owns Ralphs. Its approximately 6,000 workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 8GS, 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428 and 1442, which voted last week to authorize a strike.

"Monday, we returned to the bargaining table, prepared to negotiate as long as it took to get the wages, hours, and benefits we need to feed our families and improve our lives," the union said in a statement Wednesday. "We bargained late into the night and came back first thing in the morning to fight for the contract we need. But after over 26 hours of bargaining over the past two days, the company has continually refused to make any meaningful progress."

Kroger spokesman Salvador Ramirez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but said after the strike authorization vote last week that the company was "disappointed in this outcome and looking forward to the union coming back to the table on Monday. From the start, our focus has been putting more money in our associates' paychecks.

"We have presented a historic offer that includes over $70 million in wage investments, industry-leading health care, and retirement benefits," Ramirez said. "Our associates are the heartbeat of our company, and we will continue to do everything we can to balance investments in wages and overall associate well-being while keeping food affordable for our customers. Our stores will continue to be open for business to serve our communities."

The union's demands include higher pay and safety improvements. Their contract expired June 8.

"From the start, Food 4 Less/Foods Co. members have been united in standing for the contract we deserve -- a contract that allows us to continue serving our customers and providing our communities with access to the fresh food needed to feed their families," UFCW officials said in a statement Wednesday.

"Our work should be valued the same way it is valued at other profitable union grocery stores. Throughout this process we have been disappointed that our employer and its parent company, Kroger, has disrespected us and refused to acknowledge our hard work and the inequity of their own grocery contracts. While a deal was not reached today, we are committed to bargaining effectively with Food 4 Less/Foods Co and want to thank our customers and communities for their continued support. Right now, we are evaluating all possibilities and what actions may be needed moving forward."

Earlier this month, the company announced it had presented the union with an offer that includes increasing salaries to $25.80 per hour by 2026 for a full-time cashier with four years of full-time experience, for an annual salary of more than $50,000. The proposal also would not increase employee health insurance costs over the three-year contract.

"At Food 4 Less/Foods Co., our hardworking and dedicated associates are the heartbeat of our company, and our goal is to continue to provide market- competitive wages and benefits that we know are so important to our associates and their families," Bryan Kaltenbach, president of Food 4 Less/Foods Co., said in a statement.

"We will continue to do everything we can to balance investments in wages and overall well-being while keeping food affordable for our customers."

On May 22, the union locals filed unfair labor practice charges against Food 4 Less/Foods Co., alleging the company undermined negotiations and workers' rights to representation. Union officials said the company has engaged in unlawful surveillance of workers, prohibited them from participating in union activity, blocked them from talking to union representatives and unilaterally changed the contract.

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