Members of UFCW Local 400 who held courtesy clerk positions at Kroger store #408 in Lynchburg, Va., were promoted to front end clerks in January thanks to a strong union contract. In addition to being promoted, the workers also gained raises, benefits, holiday pay and paid vacations in the process.
All Local 400 members working at Kroger under the Roanoke and West Virginia contracts have the power to make the same gains at their stores if management regularly assigns courtesy clerks tasks beyond the scope of their position, such as stocking shelves or providing break relief for cashiers.
Thanks to tough negotiating by Kroger members, the current contracts in Roanoke and West Virginia state clearly that if management at any store misuses courtesy clerks in this way three times, all courtesy clerks are promoted and the position is eliminated. It doesn’t matter how far apart the violations happen or whether they involve different managers or courtesy clerks—it’s “three strikes and you’re out!”
Mary Little, a UFCW Local 400 shop steward at Kroger store #408, uncovered three such violations. They took place last fall, involving two courtesy clerks and two store managers.
“I saw that one courtesy clerk was manning the register,” Mary said. “I made sure what his classification was, and then I snapped a picture. They asked me what was going on and I explained why I did it. The courtesy clerk said he’d been working as a cashier for a while. I took it to the store manager; he blamed it on the courtesy clerk and said he’d deal with it. But he didn’t. Because several weeks later, I caught the same violation.”
“A few weeks after that, I caught a different courtesy clerk working as a cashier and she told me she’d been doing it for almost a year,” Mary recalled. “Management did promote her and gave her back pay, which was good. She was very grateful, and said she’d put her back pay in the bank and would use it toward college.”
“Most important, this was the third violation,” Mary continued. “So my representative and I put the wheels in motion to enforce the contract.”
On January 6, 2017, Kroger confirmed the workers’ victory in a letter, stating:
Store 408 will no longer hire associates into the Courtesy Clerk classification. All associates currently classified as a Courtesy Clerk will be reclassified as a Front End Clerk effective Sunday, January 8, 2016. All future associates being hired for the courtesy clerk position will now be hired and classified as a Front End Clerk for the duration of the existing contract.
This was a huge achievement, but Mary isn’t resting on her laurels. She travels to other Kroger stores on her two days off. “I’m going to go to every shop steward,” she said. “I’m going to talk to them, hand them the playbook on how to do this, and tell them how we did it at our store. I’ll coach them, because all courtesy clerks deserve the same raises and benefits as the rest of us.”