DENVER — Thousands of King Soopers employees across Colorado walked off the job Wednesday after negotiations between King Soopers and the union who represents those workers failed last Friday.
The strike, which would last until Feb. 2, could affect operations at more than 70 locations across the Denver metro, Boulder, Broomfield and Parker regions, as more than 8,400 workers strike against alleged unfair labor practices. Union workers at King Soopers in Colorado Springs are also planning to strike, but a date has not been set for when they plan to walk off the job. Not all stores are impacted by the strike.
Shoppers woke up Wednesday wondering how the impasse could impact their local store, so Denver7 is taking a 360 In-Depth look at the strike to give you context. If you're wondering how big of a footprint King Soopers has in the Denver market, most recent stats from 2020 give an overall picture. The grocery store chain owned by Kroger dominated market share at nearly 35%.
A few more things you might not know:
- 1996 was the last strike by grocery store workers in Colorado
- Union members at King Soopers walked off the job
- That strike lasted 42 days
The strike comes after United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 7 President Kim Cordova said late Tuesday afternoon King Soopers' "last, best, and final offer" was “in many ways, is worse than its previous offers." Jessica Trowbridge, a spokesperson for King Soopers, said alternatively that the union was not engaging with the company or speaking with company representatives.
The "last, best and final" offer includes making $16 an hour the starting wage, increasing hourly wages this year between $1.50 and $4.50 for some employees and offering a one-time bonus of either $2,000 or $4,000, depending on the employee's years of service.
A previous offer included $170 million in new wages, a ratification bonus and health care benefits that would not raise current premiums. The company said that included increasing the starting pay to $16 an hour and ratification bonuses of $2,000 for employees with less than 10 years of service, and $4,000 for workers with 10 or more years of experience.
“Local 7 is putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money in our associates’ pockets,” said King Soopers president Joe Kelley on Wednesday morning. “It’s time for Kim Cordova to put our associates, her members, first instead of denying them the opportunity to vote on this unprecedented investment. Creating more disruption for our associates, their families, and Coloradans rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution is irresponsible and undemocratic.”
Meanwhile, Cordova said King Soopers “has failed to respond to critical requests and data concerning the wage, health, and safety matters that are central to these negotiations.”
“We strike because it has become clear this is the only way to get what is far, just, and equitable for the grocery workers who have risk their lives every day just by showing up to work during the pandemic,” Cordova said in a statement. “We will continue to be relentless in fighting for our members."
But not every union member is on board with the strike, like Jenny Eastman. She's the bakery manager at the King Soopers store near Sheridan Blvd. and West 80th Ave.
"I'm really hoping that they can come to some sort of agreement and maybe find a way to stop this and cause a little less stress for the people that are trying to work," she said.
While the current offer isn't perfect, as the wage increases it proposes aren't as high as what the union wants, the bonuses, she says, would have had a big impact.
"These are things that can help us find a certain amount of sustainability that we don't always have or pay for small things, like repairs on our houses," Eastman said.
She wants her voice heard and would like to vote on the current offer on the table, as King Soopers says the union's by-laws allow her to do, but she's hit a wall getting in touch with union reps.
"The union works for us," Eastman said. "We pay them out of our salary for them to exist, so they should be listening to the employee on what is best for us."
The contract between the union and the company expired Saturday. King Soopers said it tried to bring in a mediator to come to an agreement, but the union rejected it. UFCW said the mediator did not understand the issues at hand.
The union also claims King Soopers has attempted to bargain directly with employees by using third party staffing services to hire workers to go into stores to try to negotiate. The union filed a lawsuit in late December saying this alleged behavior was a breach of their contract.
On Monday, King Soopers filed unfair labor practice charges against UFCW Local 7 for "refusing to bargain in good faith," a claim the union has also made against the grocery store chain.