Oct. 14, 2003, 12:00AM

More Kroger workers to strike Contract feud to shut stores, not pharmacies

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Grocery workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky went on strike at midnight Monday -- just days after Kroger clerks walked out in Southern California.

More than 2,000 members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 approved a strike, union officials said.

A Kroger spokesman said the company planned to close stores at midnight Monday, but its pharmacies would stay open.

Stores in the Houston area will not be affected.

"All of our collective bargaining agreements are in place. I don't see how this could move into Texas and affect our business here," said Russell Richard, Kroger's consumer affairs manager, Southwest division.

The Southern California chains -- Albertsons, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Safeway's Vons -- relied on store managers and replacement workers to drive supply trucks, restock shelves and ring up purchases to keep the nearly 900 stores open for a diminished flow of customers after employees went on strike Saturday.

In West Virginia, union president Jim Lowthers said Kroger's proposal didn't provide enough money to pay for benefits."

"They ought to be providing for the families that helped earn that money," he said.

The union represents about 3,300 workers for the Cincinnati-based chain in 37 stores in West Virginia, five in Ohio and two in Kentucky. Kroger is West Virginia's fourth-largest employer, with about 5,100 workers statewide.

In Missouri, about 10,000 union members have been on strike at the St. Louis area's three largest chain grocers since Tuesday. The 96 stores affected have hired temporary workers and cut hours. The biggest sticking points are medical costs and pay raises.

Kroger proposed an 8 percent, or $9 million, increase for workers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, in a health and welfare fund administered by a third party.

An independent actuary determined the fund needs an additional $29 million, Lowthers said.

The company's offer also included hourly raises in 2004 and '05, along with lump-sum payments of $300 to $500 in 2004 and '06 and more full-time employees.

Pete Williams, president of Kroger's mid-Atlantic region, wrote a letter to employees saying the company offers generous benefits compared with nonunion grocers such as Wal-Mart "who want our business and want your jobs."

Kroger earned $542 million on sales of $28.6 billion for its first fiscal half ended Aug. 16, down from $569.3 million on sales of $27.6 billion a year earlier.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Oct. 13, 2003, 11:12PM


In City Council At-Large Positions 1 and 2 races The Chronicle recommends the election of Brian Wozniak in the race for the open, At-Large Position 1 seat on the Houston City Council and the re-election of At-Large Position 2 Councilman Gordon Quan in the Nov. 4 general election.

The Chronicle believes Wozniak, president of the flight attendant's association representing cabin crews of Continental Airlines and Continental Express, would bring new ideas and energy to the 14-member council to improve the operation of city government and the quality of life for Houstonians. The At-Large Position 1 seat is being vacated by Annise Parker, who is running for Houston city controller.

Wozniak promises to worked to eliminated needless city bureaucracy, prioritize the city's budget and to encourage more business and government cooperation in attracting and keeping high-quality jobs for our city.

Gordon Quan, who is seeking re-election to a third and final term in the At-Large Position 2 seat, has served broader Houston well. He has had as a goal improving property values while maintaining average families' abilities for homeownership.

Issues important to senior citizens have been of particular interest to Quan. He sought increased federal funding for senior meal programs and enforcing building codes that address the access of the elderly. Quan has been a strong supporter of public safety, spending time with firefighters and police officers to better understand their needs and responsibilities.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Oct. 14, 2003, 11:19PM

Coalition minds immigrants' labor rights


The struggles of 36-year-old Honduran Nancy Herrera are typical of those many immigrants in this country face.

Twice in the 14 years she's lived in Houston, employers have refused to pay her.

In August 2001, she was working for a temporary employment agency cleaning schools.

She and 150 other workers, mostly immigrants, demanded payment after employers avoided paying them for two weeks.

Herrera was due $450 from the agency.

Then, in November 2002, an employer refused to pay her for managing a cleaning crew at a department store for a week.

She was owed $899.

In both instances, employers threatened to call immigration officials and deport the unpaid workers.

And in both cases, Herrera was paid after seeking help from members of Justice and Equality in the Workplace, a coalition organized in July 2001 to help inform Hispanic immigrants about their rights as workers and to uncover illegal employment practices and discrimination.

On Tuesday, four more organizations joined the coalition: the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the Hispanic Contractor's Association in Houston, the Associated General Contractors of America's Houston chapter and the Houston Chamber of Latino Business Owners.

The contractors were asked to join the coalition because the majority of complaints filed by immigrant workers involved construction companies, said Mario Nunez, spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Houston.

Realizing that a disproportionate number of Hispanics die in construction-related accidents, Randy Magdaleno, chairman of the Hispanic Contractor's Association's Houston chapter, wanted to get involved with the coalition.

He said that workers need to get safety training and be encouraged to point out unsafe conditions.

"It may hurt us, but we need to start making changes," Magdaleno said. "We're going to have to speak out and say this is not a safe work environment."

The coalition was spearheaded more than two years ago by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Mexican consulate and the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. These groups were joined by the City of Houston, the Harris County AFL-CIO, the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the consulates of Colombia, Guatemala and El Salvador joined the coalition.

Since the coalition formed, the U.S. Department of Labor has received more than 700 complaints and recovered $1.5 million in back wages for immigrant workers. OSHA has issued 35 safety and health standard citations with penalties of more than $90,000 to employers that have broken labor laws by putting immigrant workers in danger. And the Mexican Consulate and the mayor's office have received hundreds of complaints, mostly from those like Herrera who allege they were not paid their wages.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle