KROGER, UNION AGREE ON NEW CONTRACT IN VIRGINIA

SALEM, Va. -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 here last week said it has ratified a new four-year contract with Kroger Co., Cincinnati.The new contract ensures that Kroger will cover all increases in health care over the next four years, according to Jim Lowthers, Local 400 president.The local represents 4,700 employees in 49 Kroger stores in southwest and central Virginia as

SALEM, Va. -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 here last week said it has ratified a new four-year contract with Kroger Co., Cincinnati.

The new contract ensures that Kroger will cover all increases in health care over the next four years, according to Jim Lowthers, Local 400 president.

The local represents 4,700 employees in 49 Kroger stores in southwest and central Virginia as well as parts of West Virginia and Tennessee.

"This was a major victory for us, as the costs of health care and prescription drug coverage have been increasing rapidly over the past few years," Lowthers told SN.

The union was also pleased to have shortened the term of the contract from five to four years, Lowthers noted. "The UFCW has always tried to hold a policy of three-year contracts, so we are glad to have shortened the period," he said. "A shorter contract means we can take advantage of positive changes in the economic atmosphere."

The new contract also increases compensation for low-end positions within the company, a move that should help retain entry-level employees, according to Lowthers.

"We really tried to prevent employee turnover with this new deal," he said. "We have changed the raise progression on the low end, but have also taken care of high-end employees as well. We need to retain new employees so that the higher-paid associates' time is not taken up with training and covering for gaps in the labor pool." Kroger declined to comment on the new contract.