NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The clock is ticking for Smith’s parent company, Kroger, to reach a deal with grocery store workers who are demanding raises. Workers want a deal by Saturday or they say they will go on strike. Grocery store chain Kroger is in negotiations with United Food and Commercial Workers of New Mexico.

The union represents 2,800 employees across 24 stores in the state. They have until Saturday to reach a deal or employees go on strike. “If that vote was held today, I believe we’d probably see 98 to 100 percent vote to authorize a strike. They are angry, frustrated, and they are deserving of improvements,” said Greg Fraizer, president of United Food and Commercial Workers of New Mexico.

The state’s minimum wage is $11.50. Right now, Smith’s says the average employee makes $14.30 per hour. The union is asking for a $2 raise for every employee, an amount Fraizer says employees were offered when working during the height of the pandemic. The union says employees deserve the extra money for taking on more like enforcing the mask mandate.

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“Customers will go to the employees and say, they’re not wearing a mask, make them wear their mask and they’re in a situation where they’re not management, it’s not being mandated at the storefront, the employees are the ones that get the slack from the customers,” said Fraizer.

However, the grocery store chain says they are trying to strike a balance between paying employees more and keeping grocery prices low. “Our associates are the bloodline of our company, but we also have to balance those desires with making groceries affordable to our New Mexico community,” said Aubriana Martindale, corporate affairs manager for Smith’s Food and Drug.

The grocery chain is offering pay hikes of $130 per month to some employees. “Say for example we have a cashier with five years’ experience, we want to make that investment to increase their wages over the length of a three-year period,” said Martindale.

The union says right now, Smith’s is losing out to competitors who are offering more money as hiring challenges continue. Fraizer claims Smith’s profits are higher than ever and say the money shouldn’t be a factor. “Kroger’s sales over the last two years have been so phenomenal that even this year, the last quarter, they went and they rebudgeted their projections to end 2021. They’re going to do better this year than they did last year,” said Fraizer.

Smith’s says that’s not entirely true. “While there’s been question of profits are higher than ever, costs have also been higher than ever in this pandemic,” said Martindale.

Kroger is also asking for more security and adjustments to their vacation time and holiday pay. The union and Kroger are meeting Wednesday and Thursday.