We have been lucky. As essential workers, we were lucky enough to survive the pandemic despite putting our lives on the line every day by just going to work. Just when things finally began to turn the corner, we became survivors of a mass shooting, unlike nearly 20,000 Americans who lost their lives to gun violence in 2020. We were lucky. We are lucky because we only lost three of our beloved co-workers that day. We are lucky that we have our union Brothers and Sisters of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7.
We are especially lucky to have leaders like Local 7 President Kim Cordova who, even before the pandemic, fought for our safety every day. While some naysayers from outside our community, including Senator Dennis Hisey consider advocating for fair wages, benefits, and safety, as mere politics, we strongly disagree. In fact, we weren’t surprised to read he is politicizing what to us is not political — our lives — because others are using the same playbook.
For example, most people would never know the intricate details of filing grievances, reporting to OHSA, and advocating with store management about heavy boxes blocking escape exits in stores. Boxes which could cost lives in an emergency. They also wouldn’t know about dangers that grocery store employees faced before vaccinations, which ranged from verbal and physical attacks from irate customers to a lack of basic hygienic supplies like soap and paper towels in bathrooms. Advocating for safety on behalf of members and employees is the job of our union. It is that simple.
And unfortunately, the stakes in 2020 and 2021 could not have been higher. Where some see politics, we see death, sickness, and devastated families and communities. During the pandemic, our union lost 12 Local 7 members to COVID-19, half of whom were from Greeley. In fact, nearly 2,000 of our members got COVID-19, including almost 750 who work at Kroger/King Soopers, with many of our family members getting sick and even dying as well. From our perspective, there is nothing political about tragedies that come either in the form of a virus or a bullet.
UFCW Local 7 did not stop working to help us after the deadly shooting of our store. As Kroger’s PR team worked overtime to make the company appear fair and understanding as the virus spread, safety violations in stores throughout Colorado helped spread the virus to employees and in communities. Meanwhile, UFCW Local 7 has been doing the real work.
First, immediately after the tragic shooting at King Soopers in Boulder in March, Local 7 established a fund within days to provide support, including trauma and grief counseling to Union members and non-Union members from that store, as well as a fund for the families of the victims. These funds have gone directly to the workers like us who were affected by the events, especially those who may not be able to afford mental health counseling especially now that some are not working.
Second, President Cordova and Local 7 mobilized to bring our concerns straight to the company as everyone figured out how they would move forward following the traumatic event. After the company first told us that we would be required to report to work just days after the shooting, it was Local 7 and President Cordova who stepped in to secure extended periods of paid leave to recover from our own wounds, be they physical or mental.
Since Kroger has decided to renovate the store before reopening it, many of us would be unable to return to work at our nearest King Soopers location until the after work is finished. During this time, some of us would be without income or would have to travel long distances to be able to earn a living. Many of us cannot afford cars.
President Cordova requested that we receive pay during the administrative leave or a transportation benefit plan for those of us who would have to travel farther distances to work at a different store location. Local 7 was so comprehensive in their care for us, they even negotiated free Lyft and Uber rides for our members to get to their first and second COVID-19 vaccine appointments that were originally scheduled at our now destroyed store.
Well before the tragedy, Local 7 had prioritized our safety and the safety of other essential workers in grocery stores. They demanded that all Kroger stores hire an armed guard for the front of the store to increase the safety of those inside, including customers and employees. In addition, Local 7 continued to raise the issue of the company’s lackadaisical attitude around workplace safety exemplified by blocked exits and obstructed pathways.
Even basic and common-sense safety measures like clearly marked exits, active shooter training, and alarm buttons to alert customers and staff when there is an intruder have always been part of Local 7’s advocacy on behalf of all workers. These proposals would go far in not only preventing a future attack but ensuring that customers and employees faced with such a situation would be able to escape with their lives.
We thank Kim Cordova and the team at Local 7 for their hard work on our behalf, and we will continue to stand in solidarity to better the working conditions of all Coloradans.
Contributors: UFCW Local 7 Members & Survivors of the Boulder King Soopers’ Mass Shooting on March 22, Michael Engelhardt, Darcey Lopez, Chelsea Krasawski, Hannah Dill, Andy Arellano, Jasper Zeijlemaker & Gabrielle McAuley.