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King Soopers officials and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 representatives hurled “unfair labor practices” accusations at each other Monday, pointing more and more to a strike starting Wednesday.

In a news release, King Soopers said it “filed unfair labor practice charges against UFCW Local 7 for refusing to bargain in good faith.”

Within an hour, Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7 in Colorado and Wyoming, fired back.

“This is on them that they let that contract expire without reaching an agreement,” she said at a news conference. “We had a proposal on the table and we still have it on the table and they haven't responded. So the only proposal on the table is ours.”

Monday’s back-and-forth followed increasingly acrimonious contract talks in recent weeks between the union, which represents about 17,000 grocery workers, and the chain of grocery stores owned by Kroger, the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant. Around 58% of King Soopers employees are members of the union.

More than 8,700 workers at 78 Denver metro area stores plan to walk out at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Colorado Springs stores are not included in the strike, as meat workers there still have a contract through Feb. 22.

“After three days of refusing repeated requests to return to the negotiating table, Local 7’s Kim Cordova has now rejected a reasonable request for mediation to work together toward a contract that will put more money in our associates’ pockets,” Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers/City Market, said in a statement. “If Local 7 does not want to negotiate then they should at least have the decency to allow our associates to vote on the current proposal. ... Right now, Local 7 is using our associates’ livelihoods as pawns in their political gamesmanship.”

Cordova rejected the call for federal mediators, saying “adding another presence is not going to be productive. The company should stand in front of their workers and face them and listen to their proposals and continue to negotiate until we get to an agreement.”

She said Kelley “showed up for negotiations one day and stayed for nine whole minutes.”

“He did not stay at the bargaining table to listen to workers’ proposals,” Cordova said. “So when the company is coming in front of our members and the media and the community they say they care about the workers — our workers were only worth nine minutes to the Colorado division president.”

She said the company’s most recent proposal includes a hiring wage of $16 per hour — “only 13 cents above minimum wage.”

Cordova chided Kings Soopers officials for not hiring security guards at stores, something the union has asked for since 2018, but as soon as the threat of a strike appeared security guards have appeared at stores.

“We’re willing to go back to the negotiations and go back to the table and meet with the company,” she said. “But for us to move forward, we need the company to provide critical and necessary information.”

According to the complaint King Soopers filed with the National Labor Relations Board, union officials are not negotiating in good faith.

“The union has made and insisted on unreasonable contract proposals that it knew would be unacceptable to King Soopers in an attempt to delay and frustrate bargaining,” the complaint reads. “For example, on Jan. 6, 2022, at 3:30 a.m., the union transmitted an unreasonable proposal knowing it would be unacceptable to King Soopers to further frustrate bargaining and delay negotiations until the contract expires and striking could commence.”

Local 7 and King Soopers began negotiations in October. The union sued the company in federal court, alleging it violated its contract by paying third-party contractors higher rates to stock shelves. King Soopers denied the allegations and said it was disappointed Local 7 went to court.

In separate votes Jan. 1 and 3, union members in Denver and Colorado Springs, respectively, overwhelmingly authorized a strike.

Local 7’s leadership then rejected what King Soopers called its “comprehensive best offer” on a new labor deal, which the company says included wage hikes and signing bonuses totaling more than $148 million over three years.

Some of Local 7’s contracts, including one covering meat department workers in Colorado Springs, don’t expire until Feb. 22. Talks continued for more than two months after a previous agreement expired in 2019, and Local 7 hasn’t conducted a strike since members walked off the job at Safeway for 1½ months in 1996.

Local 7 continues to negotiate an agreement with Idaho-based Albertsons, which operates Safeway and Albertsons stores in Colorado.

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