July 2006. Louisville Kroger management thought they had a bright idea when they forced workers from a five-day week to four ten-hour days. Their move, combined with other mistakes, only made matters worse.
Local 89 members are paying the price. Four ten-hour days quickly became five ten-hour days—and more. “Some guys have worked 60-70 days straight, ten or more hours per day,” Local 89 member Mark Horsley said. “We’ve had a guy get his foot crushed in a forklift accident and guys pulled over by the police after leaving work so tired that they can’t drive straight.”
Tensions and family problems are also on the rise. An argument between two employees recently resulted in one killing the other while at lunch at McDonalds. Divorced dads are getting hauled into court because they are not able to live up to visitation responsibilities.
One cause of the overtime problem was management foot-dragging over hiring much needed new workers. But the working conditions tend to drive new people away. About one-third of new hires actually stick with the job. The turnover means that experienced warehouse people need to spend time training, removing yet more experienced hands from the floor.
“There are serious problems overall in the industry,” Los Angeles warehouse Teamster Frank Halstead points out. “It may be better or worse in one or another location, but the drive to squeeze more work out of fewer and fewer workers is the big factor. Overtime, injuries, turnover are all problems that stem from this big push for more production.”