COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The union representing Kroger employees said Wednesday that Kroger will come back and bargain, as both the grocery chain and union simultaneously take measures to prepare for a labor strike that could come.

“We are working to secure a deal that works for them, and have scheduled a time to return to the bargaining table with Kroger representatives on Tuesday, September 27th,” UFCW Local 1059 President Randy Quickel said in a press release.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has yet to call a strike — nearly a week after it received authorization from its members to do so — but wrote in an email to members Wednesday obtained by NBC4 that it is preparing for “any necessary action in the next several weeks.” The Sept. 27 bargaining session was the only one the union announced as adding to its calendar.

Kroger has consistently characterized the most recent proposed tentative contract agreement as its “last, best and final offer.” It was rejected by 55% of union workers in a vote last week.

Amy McCormick, corporate affairs manager for the Columbus division, said in an email Wednesday the grocery chain’s local division met with area union leaders Wednesday and agreed to the bargaining session next week.

“As Central Ohio’s grocer, Kroger aims to balance significant wage increases for associates with keeping food affordable for customers,” McCormick said.

The grocery chain and the UFCW had recommended members ratify each version of the three offers that were ultimately voted down — the most recent one was the third. Ohio State University professor Sarah Cole said in an interview that it is not abnormal for union members to turn down what a union has negotiated.

“It’s very different when you’re sitting at the table and you’re trying to work out an agreement,” Cole said.

In its Wednesday email, the union also told members it is aware of “Kroger’s tactics.” That statement came as temporary retail associate listings populated the third-party hiring site, Indeed, for Kroger stores. The listings ask potential applicants strike-related questions, including:

  • “Are you aware you are applying as a temporary worker due to a possible labor dispute with UFCW that could occur?”
  • “If you are hired, are you willing to cross the picket line?”

Neither the company nor union answered a request from NBC4 for comment on the listings, which were found later on Wednesday to be expired.

Kroger Columbus Division President Dana Zurcher has also left workers in the affected Columbus division under the UFCW’s jurisdiction — which includes 82 stores and around 12,500 workers throughout central and southern Ohio — at least two voicemails, according to recordings obtained by NBC4, calling a strike “drastic course of action” in which “no one wins.”

Cole said conditions endured during the pandemic and ongoing labor shortages, coupled with broader rising support for unions, could be fueling where workers at the grocery chain are coming from. 

“The people working at Kroger probably are struggling to afford the food at Kroger, because we’ve all seen the cost of food increase so dramatically during this inflationary time,” Cole said.