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Harris Teeter to employees: Let’s keep unions out

Harris Teeter’s top executives are warning the grocer’s employees about unions after its acquisition by Kroger Co., a supermarket company whose workforce is largely represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“Unfortunately, it appears the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is trying to take advantage of the merger to gain new members,” wrote Frederick Morganthall II, Harris Teeter president, and Rodney Antolock, executive vice president, in a letter sent to the company’s 25,300 employees on Friday.

“We do not believe that an outside third party with its own agenda, like a union, coming between us, is in your best interest,” the executives wrote.

Harris Teeter’s stores and operations are nonunion, which analysts consider one of the company’s strengths. The UFCW represents about 208,000 Kroger employees, a majority of the company’s 343,000 workers.

The Harris Teeter executives told employees that their Friday letter was in response to a recent statement by Joseph Hansen, UFCW president.

“If Kroger thinks we are going to sit back and let a large portion of their stores operate as nonunion, they are in for a rude awakening,” they said Hansen recently remarked. Harris Teeter didn’t say where Hansen made the statement.

The UFCW didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Kroger announced it would buy Harris Teeter last month in a $2.4 billion deal. Harris Teeter has set an Oct. 3 meeting for shareholders to vote on the agreement. The deal could close in the fourth quarter, pending regulatory approval.

Kroger executives have declined to comment on how they would handle the question of unions at Harris Teeter stores. On a conference call, Kroger chief financial officer Mike Schlotman said the company would “take (Harris Teeter’s) guidance … on how to maintain the excitement of their associates.”

The UFCW bargains collectively for employees in many of Kroger’s markets. On Friday, the union said in a press release that it won a new, three-year contract for 4,800 Kroger workers in Roanoke, Va., that included $2-an-hour raises and maintained health and retirement benefits.

Morganthall and Antolock said Harris Teeter will be better off without unions.

“We believe strongly that it is best for you to interact directly with your managers at Harris Teeter who are there to help and support you,” they wrote. “We always have worked together as a team, without the interference of an outside third party like a union.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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