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Harris Teeter: We intend to ‘remain union free’

One of the questions surrounding The Kroger Co.’s planned $2.44 billion acquisition of Matthews-based Harris Teeter was whether the large unions that represent a majority of Kroger’s 343,000 associates would organize workers in union-free Harris Teeter stores.

The answer appears to be no. In a question-and-answer document for employees about the merger, Harris Teeter included this: “Since Kroger is union, will I be required to join the union as well? … No, Harris Teeter intends to remain union free.”

Harris Teeter filed the question-and-answer document in a securities filing last week.

The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, which represents about 60 percent of Kroger’s employees, didn’t respond to messages.

Kroger has declined to comment on the issue of unions. During the company’s conference call about the merger last week, chief financial officer Mike Schlotman declined to answer analysts’ questions about unions specifically.

“They have done a great job of exciting their associates every day when they come to work with a package of benefits and pay they enjoy,” he said of Harris Teeter and its workers. “We will certainly take (Harris Teeter’s) guidance … on how to maintain the excitement of their associates.”

Harris Teeter employs about 25,300. Not having unions is generally considered a positive by analysts. UBS Securities analyst Jason DeRise listed that as a point in Harris Teeter’s favor last week in a note to investors, along with a strong brand and loyal shoppers.

Kroger plans to keep the Harris Teeter name and stores, and will run the company as a subsidiary with a regional headquarters in Matthews.

The merger now needs approval from Harris Teeter shareholders and federal regulators.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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