Don’t look for picket lines at Colorado Springs-area King Soopers stores on Wednesday, even though the union representing the chain’s Colorado workers was set to launch a strike at Denver stores starting in the pre-dawn hours.
Workers in meat departments of King Soopers stores in Colorado Springs and several other cities, including Pueblo, remain under separate contracts with the company that don’t expire until Feb. 19. While contracts covering workers outside the meat departments in the chain’s Colorado Springs-area stores expired Saturday, calling a strike against those stores would force meat department workers to cross a picket line to work.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 7 in the Denver and Colorado Springs areas have voted nearly unanimously to authorize a strike. Local 7 President Kim Cordova had said the union could pull workers from stores all at once or pick and choose from which stores to pull workers and do so incrementally.
The union Tuesday rejected what King Soopers called its “last, best and final offer.” As a result, more than 8,700 workers at 78 Denver metro stores plan to walk out at 5 a.m. Wednesday. That is a bit more than half of the 17,000 King Soopers employees represented by Local 7.
The company employs more than 22,500 King Soopers/City Market employees statewide, which includes management-level positions and workers at a handful of stores not represented by Local 7, including one in Monument.
Cordova predicted last week that King Soopers would “not be able to continue to provide the service necessary to keep those stores running.” The company, owned by Cincinnati-based grocery giant Kroger, and many other retailers have battled labor shortages.
King Soopers valued its offer at $170 million over the next three years, which includes wage increases, and up to $4,000 in “ratification bonuses” for employees. That is $22 million higher than the previous offer.
Meanwhile, customers seemed to be prepping for a strike, too. Excessively long checkout lines were witnessed in King Soopers stores in Denver, and one in Parker on Tuesday. Security guards were evident where they hadn’t been there last week, and signs advertising “temporary workers needed” were displayed prominently.
The presence of security guards is another point of contention with union members, who said they’ve been asking for them at every store since 2018.
On March 22, a gunman killed 10 people at a Boulder King Soopers, including a Boulder police officer, before officers took him into custody. The suspect faces dozens of charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons counts related to possessing banned high-capacity magazines. The Table Mesa store is scheduled to reopen Jan. 20.
The latest offer didn’t increase the proposed minimum starting wage of $16. That also is a major point of disagreement with Local 7, since King Soopers is offering $18 an hour to temporary workers who would replace striking workers. The current starting wage at King Soopers is Colorado’s minimum wage, which increased to $12.56 an hour on Jan. 1.
Union representatives didn’t respond to The Gazette’s request for comment Tuesday.
“At King Soopers, we want what is right for our associates, and that is more money in their paychecks while continuing to receive industry-leading health care benefits,” Joe Kelley, the company’s president, said in a news release.
He called the offer a “monumental investment” and said the union “threatens disruption.” The company filed an “unfair labor practices” complaint Monday with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Local 7 will not return to the bargaining table. Cordova declined the company’s request for federal mediation and instead demanded the chain bring local representation to the bargaining table instead of “out-of-state corporate lawyers.” She also said Local 7 is waiting on information from the company that is needed to reach an agreement.
Local 7 made its “comprehensive” offer late last week that called for immediate wage increases for workers of at least $6 an hour and $1.50 an hour increases in the second and third years of the proposed contract.
King Soopers is “lying to our members. They are not telling you of all the details,” Cordova said Tuesday in a video posted on Local 7’s website.
Gazette reporter Seth Klamann contributed to this report.