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Unionized King Soopers workers prepared to strike Wednesday; shoppers stock up beforehand

UFCW Local 7 says latest offer "is worse than its previous offer," company says union hasn't engaged
King Soopers on Ninth Avenue in Denver
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 11:14:23-05

DENVER – The president of the union that represents thousands of King Soopers employees in the Denver metro area said Tuesday afternoon the unionized employees plan to strike starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday after rejecting the company’s latest offer.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 7 President Kim Cordova said shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday that the “last, best, and final offer” given by King Soopers on Tuesday “in many ways, is worse than its previous offers” and that the employees were prepared to strike Wednesday morning across the metro area. She claimed the company had not met certain requests given Monday evening.

Jessica Trowbridge, a spokesperson for King Soopers, said alternatively that the union was not engaging with the company or speaking with company representatives.

“We have put all the money on the table,” King Soopers/City Market President Joe Kelley said in a statement. “All associates will benefit from this offer, with more money in their pocket, industry leading healthcare and a pension for when they retire. We respect our associates’ right to choose what’s best for them and their families and hope the UFCW Local 7 will do the same.”

King Soopers said the 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.

In order for employees to get those bonuses, the strike has to be called off and the contract has to be ratified by Jan. 22.

King Sooper said Wednesday morning that its stores will remain open during the strike.

“Local 7 is putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money in our associates’ pockets,” Kelley said 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. We are preparing for a strike that will begin in the Denver metropolitan area tomorrow morning at 5 a.m.”

UFCW Local 7 workers who spoke at a news conference Monday said some employees were living in their cars because they are unable to afford an apartment on their wages, and that others have been berated by customers. BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday on workers for Kroger – the parent company of King Soopers – being unable to afford housing or food during the pandemic.

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 alawsuitin 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.

Approximately 8,400 UFCW Local 7 workers could potentially strike at more than 70 stores across the Denver, Boulder, Broomfield and Parker areas. Click here for a map of the locations that could potentially be affected.

Kelley told Denver7 Monday the company flew in about 300 people from across the country to work in the event unionized employees strike.

Shoppers stock up ahead of planned strike

Some King Soopers shoppers stocked up Tuesday afternoon ahead of Wednesday morning's strike.

"We just plan to support them 100% for as long as it takes," Carmel Mansour said.

She was one of several customers Denver7 spoke with at the store's location near East 9th Avenue and North Downing Street in Denver Tuesday.

They each said they were in favor of UFCW Local 7 members fighting for better wages and working conditions, even if it means shopping elsewhere.

"I'm okay not crossing the picket line. I'll go to Safeway," customer Dale DeWitt said.

"I know that they've been on the frontlines [this whole] pandemic, and we have done nothing, really," customer Audrey said. "I believe that they deserve a raise."

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.

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 Boulevard and West 80th Avenue.

"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."