MADISON — Coal miners from Boone, Lincoln and Logan counties converged on the Madison-Danville Kroger last week to protest the grocery store's financial support of an environmental group that lobbies against mountaintop removal.
After organizing in the parking lot, about 50 coal miners from Endurance, Independence, Jupiter, Magnum and other area operations walked inside the grocery store last Wednesday about 5 p.m.
Each one handed the manager a letter and his Kroger discount card.
The coal miners' letter read:
"It was brought to my attention that the Kroger Company is supporting the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition through its corporate gift card program. While I appreciate Kroger's community and philanthropic efforts, this initiative has created the appearance that Kroger does not support those of us that work directly or indirectly with the mining industry whether in West Virginia or across the country.
"It also sends the message that you do not appreciate my business. The coal industry employs tens of thousands of West Virginians, many of which shop at Kroger stores across our region. I hope in the future Kroger's corporate management will better evaluate who it partners with and supports."
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is "people researching and publicizing regional environmental issues," according to its Web site (http://www.ohvec.org/index.html).
The organization formed in 1987 to mobilize citizen opposition to a proposed huge BASF (the Germany-based Baden Aniline and Soda Factory) chemical company hazardous waste incinerator near Ironton, Ohio, according to its Web site.
"We gathered together here today to support the mining industry, miners and their families," said Magnum employee and Holden resident Roger Horton, who is a member of the United Mine Workers of America Local 5958 in Logan County. "We want to send a statement to Kroger corporate.
"Through no fault of their own," he said, referring to the grocery store chain executives, "the environmental extremists have a supporting mechanism that funds their cause (via the Kroger Cares program). We have no quarrell with the Kroger employees. They have done nothing wrong.
"Our earnest hope is Kroger officials and coal executives will get together and work this out, and we hope they will let us know when they do. We don't intend to shop at Kroger until this is resolved.
"We plan to pursue every lawful measure to necessary to take away the funding mechanism that supports those who choose to oppose us. Coal mine employees, both union and non-union, stand united in this endeavor."
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition touted its Kroger Cares membership in its September 2007 newsletter, which is called "Winds of Change."
"Buy apples. Help support OVEC’s work. Buy salsa. Help support OVEC’s work. What if every time you shopped for groceries, 5 percent of the money you spent went to OVEC? Well, now it can!"
The article in the newsletter, which can be found in the archives on its Web site, then gives a step-by-step outline telling readers how to participate in the program.
"They have sided with an outfit that wants to do away with valley fills and strip mines," Endurance employee and Bob White resident Frank Brown said. "We have to do something to stop it. Maybe when we stop shopping at Kroger, Kroger will start getting the message."
The coal miners hope so.
"Kroger needs to take a long look at this," said Endurance employee and Foster resident David "Paw Paw" Bowles, who helped organize the Boone County boycott. "They are going to see a big impact from this. We plan to say no to Kroger totally, and we want others to do the same."
"I'm going to choose not to shop here," Endurance employee and Morrisvale resident Billy Egnor said. "Regardless of whether it is 10 percent, 1 percent or one-fifth of 1 percent, I don't care. In essense, if I shop at Kroger, I'm funding a group that is trying to shut me down."
The coal miners previously planned to visit Kroger on Jan. 25 but decided to wait until Jan. 30 "to see if we could drum up some more support," Egnor said.
The wait was worth it. The boycott grew from "five or six" coal miners to "45 or 50" in five days, Egnor said.
Jay Cummins, the president of The Kroger Company's Mid-Atlantic Division, responded to the protest in a letter to the editor sent to the Coal Valley News on Friday.
"There’s been a lot of discussion recently regarding the Kroger Cares program. I’d like to set the record straight on how it works and who it helps.
"Kroger Cares is a Kroger gift card program that empowers our shoppers by providing a way for them, through their weekly shopping, to support any authorized (501c3) charity.
"Qualified charities pre-buy Kroger gift cards that are then assigned to their charitable group. They, in turn, provide these unique Kroger gift cards to their supporters. Each time one of these designated gift cards is used to shop, the charity gets credit. Shoppers may add dollars onto these cards. Once the charity reaches a preset goal, they receive a percentage of their total in a check. Kroger shoppers have to designate a charity in order for their specific shopping to benefit that group.
"Since 2002 over 200 charitable organizations have benefited in West Virginia from our shoppers generosity. This program assists local churches, civic organizations, school teams and clubs, among others.
"All qualified, non-profit organizations are eligible to join. Kroger does not endorse any participant in the program, nor does Kroger engage in influencing the decisions of our customers. We’re proud of our West Virginia heritage and appreciate our loyal Kroger customers."
Store officials also distributed an information sheet about the Kroger Cares program.
"What is it? A fundraising program for charities. Participants allow a percentage of their grocery bills to benefit the charities of their choice.
"How does it work? Using Kroger gift cards, members/supporters of a participating charity receives 5 percent credit on the balance of their account once the value of the groceries they purchase reaches $5,000. The charity receives a check from Kroger for that amount, and then the account resets to zero and the charity begins working toward the next rebate.
"Who can participate? Any non-profit organization, 501c3, is eligible. Kroger does not endorse any participant in the program, nor does Kroger engage in influencing decisions of customers. We respect the rights of individuals to express their points of view."
Like the grocery store's products, the coal miners aren't buying company officials' explanation. They will continue to boycott Kroger, they said.
"We're going to stop spending money here," Horton said. "It's that simple. It isn't something we cherish doing, but you have to stand for something.
"It doesn't make sense for us to spend money in a business that supports a group that is trying to put us out of business and take away our jobs," added Magnum employee and Chapmanville resident Kevin Luthy, who also is a member of the United Mine Workers of America Local 5958. "I spend $300 at the grocery store every two weeks. Now, times that by 50."
Contact Jacob Messer at email@example.com and 369-1165 or 785-8951.