King Soopers Inc. and Safeway Inc. will begin advertising Friday to hire replacement workers should unionized workers go on strike after their contract expires May 9.
It would be the first walkout against the state's grocers since 1996.
Starting today, both chains will start radio and newspaper advertisements announcing that they will hire thousands of workers statewide to keep their stores open if members of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 7 in Denver launch a strike.
Safeway will begin taking applications on Saturday at all stores, while King Soopers will take applications between Monday and Wednesday at all of its supermarkets.
"We still want to bring negotiations to a conclusion with a mutually acceptable agreement. We are hopeful of reaching a peaceful resolution" Kris Staaf, a Safeway spokeswoman in Denver, said Thursday.
Local 7, which is running ads of its own seeking public support for its members, said in a statement that both chains "continue to demand a nearly 50 percent cut in pension benefits" and haven't yet made a wage offer.
The union also said workers at Safeway's meat warehouse in Denver rejected the company's final contract offer and authorized a strike.
The union represents about 15,000 workers statewide at King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons LLC.
The chains are negotiating separately with the union but are coordinating with each other.
In the Springs area, King Soopers operates 10 stores with 1,000 union workers, while Safeway operates 13 stores with 780 union workers.
Workers at four local Albertson's stores aren't represented by the union.
Negotiations began last month after Local 7 members rejected the chains' initial contract offer, which would have raised the minimum retirement age from 50 to 62, eliminated pension benefits for disabled workers and ended a $200-a-month supplemental payment for retirees between the ages of 60 and 62.
The union countered by asking the chains to take advantage of a new federal law that would delay required benefit cuts in the underfunded plan.
The chains reached a tentative agreement last week on health care provisions of the contract, which would include more preventive measures, such as health assessments and screenings, Web and telephone nurse support, medical management programs for chronic diseases and incentives for workers to quit smoking and lower cholesterol.
King Soopers and Safeway also offered to boost their pension contributions by $15 million, up from $10 million.
Talks continue next week in Westminster. Local 7 has scheduled votes on Safeway's final contract offers for May 8 in the Springs and May 9 in the Denver area.
No vote has yet been scheduled for union members of King Soopers' final contract offer.