Business

King Soopers Strike Update: Ugly Report About Restarted Talks

Local 7 president Kim Cordova, foreground, as seen during a video offering an update on negotiations with King Soopers on January 14.
Local 7 president Kim Cordova, foreground, as seen during a video offering an update on negotiations with King Soopers on January 14.
Editor's note: The members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 have ended their labor action against King Soopers. Get details in our post "King Soopers, Union Reach Tentative Agreement to End Strike." Continue for our previous coverage.

Hopes were high on January 14, when United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 agreed to restart contract talks with Kroger-owned King Soopers, Colorado's largest grocery chain (counting stores that operate under the City Market brand), in an effort to resolve a strike that began two days earlier. But the union's version of events portrays the results of the initial session as falling somewhere between useless and ugly.

At 7:43 a.m. January 15, Local 7 posted this item on its Facebook page: "Jon McPherson, VP of Labor Relations for Kroger/King Soopers, said, 'Let your people stay on the streets!' during bargaining on 1/14/22!" Accompanying this blurb were the hashtags "#disrespectful" and "#shameonyoukroger."

The King Soopers release confirming a meeting, shared at 2:27 p.m. on January 14, staked out a passive-aggressive position. Under the headline "King Soopers and City Market Receives Notice From UCFW Local 7 of Their Desire to Meet: UFCW Should Not Be a Roadblock to Wage Increases and Let Their Members Vote," it began with this: "Today, after nearly a week of King Soopers/City Market urging Local 7 to return to the bargaining table, both parties will meet to reengage in negotiations. King Soopers
remains hopeful that Local 7 will engage in good faith bargaining and will leave the stall tactics and inflammatory proposals behind and instead focus on coming together, for the good of their members, to make progress on their contract."

Also spotlighted were quotes from King Soopers/City Market president Joe Kelley. "We presented Local 7 with our Last, Best and Final Offer, the best offer in company history, on Tuesday, January 11," he maintained. "This offer clearly demonstrates our desire to put more money into our associates’ paychecks. I care deeply about our associates and unfortunately the unions’ recent antics continue to stand in the way of our associates getting the wage increases they deserve."

Kelley added: "The bottom line is that our associates have lost their voice and instead have been manipulated into striking over an alleged unfair labor practice charge. Their wage increases are being delayed and they have been denied their democratic right to vote on the real issue at hand — their contract; and now they find themselves on the picket line. I will be attending negotiations today for our associates —
to advocate for the union to put their members first and come to a timely resolution that ultimately provides our associates with increased wages, industry leading healthcare and a secure pension."

Local 7 described the King Soopers offer very differently. The union has castigated the company for setting hourly pay for entry-level associates at $16 while offering temporary workers $18 — around the amount the committee representing workers has proposed as a contractual starting point. Another point of friction involves a request for armed security at stores, an issue that called to mind the Table Mesa King Soopers where a March 2021 mass shooting killed ten people, including three employees. King Soopers had originally announced that the branch would reopen on January 20, but after Local 7 president and UFCW International vice president Kim Cordova told Westword that staffers planned to strike the store, the relaunch was delayed.

Press representatives weren't allowed to attend the negotiating sessions. But at 7:26 p.m. on January 14, Cordova offered a statement about how things had gone — and the tone was anything but optimistic.

"After days of striking and repeatedly asking King Soopers to listen to the voices of the employees and cease the company’s unfair labor practices, UFCW Local 7 members met with King Soopers leadership today to continue discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement," she allowed. "Unfortunately, after just 68 minutes of across the table discussion spread throughout the day, during which King Soopers did not present a single proposal, while the union presented new offers on twelve different topics covering the parties’ competing proposals, discussions ended for the day."

She continued: "The essential workers, who have put their lives at risk throughout this pandemic to feed the Colorado community, have stood on the picket lines this week, lifting their voices together to protest the unfair labor practices at King Scoopers/Kroger. Our voices have fallen on deaf ears. The offer King Soopers has on the table for workers today is even worse than it was in the days before the strike, ignoring virtually all of the proposals presented by workers, with no new economic gains — and even omitting the $4,000 sell-out bonuses which King Soopers had previously offered workers in order to get them to accept a concessionary contract."

Cordova also contended that "King Soopers’ latest proposal contains numerous poison pill provisions, one of which would make wage rates proposed by the company worth less than the paper they are printed on. Under this proposal, workers could forfeit daily overtime pay, and some are looking at wage cuts of up to $3.34 per hour." As a result, she noted, "Our strike against the unfair labor practices from King Soopers will continue until the Company comes to the table in good faith and listens to the voices of workers. We remain hopeful that the Company will truly see and hear our members and decide to finally respect us, protect us, and pay us what we deserve."

If there's any good news to have emerged from this meeting, it's that neither side declared a stalemate. According to Local 7, the union will return to the bargaining table this afternoon, January 17.

Here's a video of Cordova elaborating on her account of the January 14 talks.