King Soopers, Union Remain a Long Way Apart on New Labor Deal

Despite months of bargaining between two major Colorado supermarket chains and a union representing more than 10,000 of their employees, the two sides have yet to settle disagreements over wages, benefits, overtime and more.

Bargaining between the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and King Soopers and Safeway began in December, just before the expiration of the three-year agreements the union reached with both companies in late 2015. Those contracts have been temporarily extended as negotiations over new agreements continue.

“Our goal with every negotiation is to provide our associates a competitive compensation package of wages and benefits,” King Soopers spokesman Adam Williamson said in a statement. “The contract is currently under extension, and we hope to reach an agreement soon.”

The two sides met for their latest round of negotiations on Wednesday, February 13, at the Hyatt Regency Conference Center in Aurora. But after their eighth such bargaining session in as many weeks, the company and its workers don’t appear much closer to a deal.

Proposals released by UFCW Local 7 this week show a long list of issues the two sides have yet to agree on, from paid leave and sick days to workplace safety and scheduling arrangements. A particular point of contention is King Soopers’ proposal to eliminate daily overtime pay, according to documents released by the union, as well as workers’ concerns about the hiring of part-time gig workers who don’t receive pension and health benefits.

click to enlarge UFCW LOCAL 7
UFCW Local 7

A representative for the union, which represents 22,000 workers in food service, meatpacking and other industries in Colorado and Wyoming, declined to comment on the negotiations.

King Soopers is the largest supermarket chain in Colorado by market share, with over 150 stores across the state, some of which operate under the City Market brand. Its corporate parent, Kroger, is second only to Walmart on the list of the largest retailers in the country, and reported a profit of more than $2.8 billion in the first three quarters of last year. Following the massive corporate tax cut passed by congressional Republicans in December 2017, Kroger said the savings would allow it to accelerate a $500 million investment in “associate wages, training and development over the next three years.”

But in a changing economy — and a supermarket industry increasingly dominated by gig workers and app-based delivery services like Instacart and Doordash, and facing the looming threat of automation — King Soopers workers are worried they’re being left behind.

“The Company can afford to provide significant across-the-board wage increases, ensure continued quality and affordable healthcare, and a good pension for all its workers,” wrote Local 7 president Kim Cordova in a letter to union members in December. “You deserve a larger slice of their profit because it is your hard work that makes them successful.”

UFCW Local 7 is also currently bargaining with Safeway and Albertsons stores. Negotiations between the union and both companies are scheduled to continue on February 25 and 26 at the Denver Mariott Tech Center.