Kroger Co. (KR) returns to bargaining table on Cincinnati contract

UFCW Local 75 pact covering 12,000 expires Nov. 9

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CINCINNATI – The Kroger Co. returned to the bargaining table Monday with the union representing about 12,000 employees in the Cincinnati area, but both sides are tight-lipped about the prospects for reaching a deal before the contract expires Nov. 9.

“We’re scheduled to meet all week,” said UFCW Local 75 spokeswoman Brigid Kelly. “We’re still working hard to reach an agreement.”

The talks are taking place at an undisclosed location. The contract has already been extended past its original expiration date of Oct. 5. Negotiators, including a union bargaining committee that includes 7 rank and file members, took a break from contract talks Oct. 17. That gave both sides a chance to research the cost impact of health care proposals and reforms mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

“Health care is an important (issue). It is complicated and taking some time,” said Kroger spokeswoman Rachael Betzler. “It’s important to work through this issue thoughtfully and carefully, and that’s what we are doing. Our goal is to reach a good and balanced agreement of  pay and benefits for our associates.”

Experts have predicted for months that health care would complicate contract talks.

Kroger reached a contract in June that included the end of spousal coverage for about 11,000 employees in Indiana. Employees instead were to be given $1,000 to shop for coverage in health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.

Kroger and union officials have repeatedly said the Indiana benefit changes were not a foregone conclusion for Cincinnati.

“Every contract is negotiated within the confines of its market,” Kelly said. “Cincinnati is not Indianapolis.  It’s not safe to assume that what happens in one area will happen in another.”

Kroger employees in Dallas recently ratified a new 42-month contract that included no major benefit changes for part-time workers or spouses.

"We're still covering spouses. No one is being sent to the exchanges," a company spokesman told the Dallas Morning News.

The contract covers 9,450 people at 92 stores in North Texas.

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