Although Kyle Tosh, Kroger bagger and junior, is a labor union member, he said he doesn’t remember the name of his own labor union, and he doesn’t pay much attention to it either. It sends him emails he never responds to, and it leeches $7.40 out of his paycheck a week. Other than that, Tosh said he receives minimal contact and unapparent benefits from his labor union, which makes him want to cease membership.
Tosh isn’t the only one. Some supermarket chains like Kroger and Meijer require all of their employees to join the labor union United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—or at least pay the fees to join. However, in January 2012, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill that made Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state, which prohibits unions from forcing workers to pay mandatory representation fees.
“(The union was) like, ‘We’re going to fight (the right-to-work law). We’re going to help our Kroger employees.’ It was total bologna. I don’t really care because you’re not helping me at all. I could watch it sink, and I wouldn’t care,” Tosh said.
According to Karen Taff, union member and social studies teacher, the right-to-work legislation was labeled in a way that makes it sound benign. However, Taff said it actually prohibits workers from being able to exercise their legal rights. It will kill the part of the labor contract that requires employees to join unions, and it stifles bargaining with corporations.
Taff said via email, “Since the late 19th century, the labor movement has played a significant role in American history. They were essential in helping to create the broad expansion of the economy and the middle class in the middle of the 20th century. In the last 25 years, much of the power of organized labor has been eroded by industrial and manufacturing jobs being moved overseas. In general, the same economic, social and political factors that have diminished the well-being of the middle class in the last 20 years have also hurt the labor movement.”
Although Indiana’s teachers have been under their own right-to-work law since 1995, many teachers join labor unions to protect their rights. Taff said she has been a member of the Indiana State Teachers’ Association (ISTA) since 1981 and a member of the local Carmel Clay Education Association (CCEA) since 1984.
Tosh has been a member of the UFCW for half a year, which is also how long he has been working for Kroger. The UFCW was created in 1979, and it claims to have the largest percentage of members under 35, which makes it the youngest labor union in the United States.
According to the UFCW, the benefits of being in a union are negotiated wages, health care and retirement plans, defined work schedules, grievance procedures, reasonable workload requirements, protection from unfair treatment and favoritism by the boss, job security, seniority rights and a voice on the job to bargain for other benefits.
“(The union gives), you know, minor healthcare. Not very much, like dental and stuff like that. It’s just that for a minor like me, I have parents that can take care of my medical bills,” Tosh said. “So I really think it’s crucial to our freedom as workers that we are able to choose whether we want to pay that much money for stuff that we don’t get.”
Indiana has become the newest right-to-work state in the last 10 years. It is also the only state in the Rust Belt, the midwestern and northeastern region of the United States associated with declining industries and population, to do so. Indiana had already passed a right-to-work law in 1957, but it was repealed in 1965.
Although employees no longer are required to join unions under the right-to-work law, they still receive the benefits from collective bargaining and negotiations between employers and a group of employees about working conditions. Opponents to the right-to-work law call these people “free riders.”
John Elliott, Kroger public affairs manager, was contacted, but he declined to comment by the publication date because he said a legal counsel was reviewing his answers due to the sensitivity of the topic.
According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), those in unions have approximately 28 percent higher wages than those who are not. However, this does not apply to Tosh.
“I get paid minimum wage, $7.25. If (the UFCW) had actually increased the wage more and took money away, I would be okay with it,” Tosh said. “Since they’re taking away union dues, I’m not even making minimum wage, and it’s not okay.”
Unlike Tosh, Emily Atkinson, Kroger cashier and senior, said she plans to continue being a member of the UFCW because being part of a union allows her to transfer more easily. When she goes to college, Atkinson said she plans to transfer to another Kroger for a part-time job.
In an attempt to interview Dee Scott, Kroger employee at customer care, was made, but she declined to comment after her manager said answering questions was against union rules.
“(Working at Kroger is) a stable job,” Tosh said, “and it’s not a bad job. I only wish I could get paid more.”