Colorado grocery workers voted Friday to authorize their leaders to call a strike against King Soopers and City Market, the state’s first walkout against a major supermarket chain in nearly 23 years.
More than 12,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 — mostly from the Denver area — began voting Thursday morning and continued through Friday evening on whether to accept the last and best offer from the Kroger Co. groceries or authorize a strike.
Votes would have been scheduled in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the Western Slope if needed to produce a majority.
Approval for a strike doesn’t mean workers will immediately walk off the job, but union leaders would have the authority to call for a walkout if they don’t reach an agreement. In Colorado’s last grocery strike, Local 7 members walked off the job at Safeway for 1½ months in 1996 after contract negotiations failed.
Local 7 said in a news release that union members “hope King Soopers and City Market can return to the table with an offer that reflects the strong commitment to workers and customers,” but cautioned “if they don’t we are prepared to strike.”
King Soopers said in an emailed statement that the company “proposed a good contract for our associates. Our goals, always, are to reach an agreement that provides a solid and competitive package of wages, benefits and a stable pension plan. At this point, the union has not called for a work stoppage. We hope they don’t and are looking forward to continuing negotiations. Right now it’s business as usual at our stores.”
King Soopers and City Market have been hiring temporary workers to keep its 11 Colorado Springs area King Soopers and one Woodland Park City Market open if there is a strike.
Local 7 has been negotiating with King Soopers and City Market since mid-December, seeking to end a two-tier wage and benefit structure for workers hired since 2015. The two-tier structure was adopted amid intense competition with nonunion retail giant Walmart.
The union also is seeking increased sick pay benefits, a guarantee of at least 21 hours a week for all union members and paid family leave.
The companies say they have offered pay raises that would total more than $2,000 over three years for its highest-paid employees, though the union said nearly half of its members wouldn’t get raises.