Grocery union ratchets up the drama as another contract deadline approaches

The latest deadline in talks between United Food & Commercial Workers Local #7 and representatives of King Soopers stores is midnight tomorrow -- and while neither side seems to want a work stoppage to begin one second later, there's disagreement over how long an negotiations extension should be. The union wants ten weeks; King Soopers prefers June 15, the date already agreed upon by Safeway workers also represented by UFCW #7. Both stores have agreed to lock out workers if employees at the other chain call a strike of the sort Safeway union staffers have already authorized.

In the meantime, the union has beefed up the messages on, a site intended to rally support for workers at King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons, where contracts also ended on May 9. There's currently a list of assorted articles about the issue, a Twitter feed, a Facebook link and a "Tip Sheet" detailing the impasse from a pro-union viewpoint. In addition, there's the video above, featuring Spencer Hill, a Summit County barrista who's active in community theater. No doubt everyone involved hopes his next performance won't be on the picket line.

Read the UFCW #7 Tip Sheet after the jump:

United Food & Commercial Workers Local #7 "Tip Sheet:"

The United Food & Commercial Workers Local #7 began negotiating new contracts with major grocers April 9, 2009.

What is at stake for the workers?

Major grocers have made a promise to these workers. They are now proposing changes to that promise - through significant cuts to pension benefits among other things. Grocery workers work hard to make these companies profitable; as a result these dedicated employees should be rewarded and share equitably in these successes.

FACT: Safeway and King Soopers have proposed dramatic cuts to workers' pension benefits despite significant financial success.

Throughout negotiations, officials of the major supermarket chains have continued to claim that the current economic recession necessitates their contract offers. The fact is that these companies are doing quite well in this economy.

In early March of this year, King Soopers' parent company Kroger Co. reported an 8 percent rise in profits in its most recent quarter. In an article about this profit increase the Associated Press reported March 10 that the recession was benefiting the company's bottom line. According to the AP, Kroger Chairman and CEO David B. Dillon explained the positive result by noting that people "are going to eat, and they are finding feeding a family of four at Kroger is less expensive than many of their other alternatives, especially going out to restaurants... So we think we are in a good position." In addition Kroger's 2008 annual report states, "By focusing on the customer through our Customer 1st strategy, we were able to report solid results for fiscal year 2008 in a particularly tough economy. At the beginning of the year, we expected to grow supermarket identical sales, excluding fuel, by 3% to 5%. For 2008, supermarket identical sales, excluding fuel, were 5.0%, meeting the upper end of our original guidance."

Despite some decline, Safeway also recorded a profit in its most recent quarter. As reported by Reuters on April 30, Safeway attributes these slight declines in profits "to lower fuel prices, a decline in the Canadian exchange rate, and a shift in holiday sales." Reuters further reported, "The company said it expects identical-store sales, excluding fuel, to rise 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent this year."

FACT: Safeway and King Soopers have opted to not extend 'green' - or adequately funded -- status under the Worker Retiree and Employee Relief Act of 2008.

Under the Worker Retiree and Employer Relief Act of 2008, trustees of pension plans have the option of extending their 'green' status for one year. If the company trustees fail to extend the 'green' status, the pension fund will go into a 'red' status, meaning there will be insufficient funding to maintain workers' pension plan. The company trustees refused to agree to a one-year extension and instead proposed dramatic cuts to worker's pension benefits.

In their own words...

"Our Kroger brand portfolio has offerings that meet our customers' varied needs and budgets... Kroger is benefiting from people in the recession cutting down on restaurant meals, and stores see strong sales for deli, bakery, and meats." - David B. Dillon, chairman and CEO

The Associated Press

Tuesday March 10, 2009

FACT: King Soopers claims they appreciate their workers - but why aren't the workers feeling this appreciation?

King Soopers says, "No one is more aware of how much our associates contribute to King Soopers than our store and division managers. We see it every day."

These workers work hard to make these companies profitable. If the corporations know this to be true, they need to reward these dedicated employees with fair wages, benefits and pension.

Current Corporation Proposals:

Wages: Corporation proposal keeps two-tier system that shortchanges second-tier workers on wages and Sunday premium. Corporation proposal freezes wages for majority of workers.

Pension: Corporation proposal reduces future retirement benefits by 50-60%. Pension Fund "increase" is being taken out of the Health & Welfare Fund by decreased contributions to the health plan - so they're using the workers' own money to pay for THEIR proposals

Health & Welfare: The company would not even pay for even minor improvements. It is taking the money from the workers' health insurance fund by reducing contributions. This will either increase premiums or reduce benefits in the long run.

What's the Difference Between a Strike & a Lockout?

What is a Strike? A strike is when 2/3 of workers vote to not accept a company offer regarding their wages, pensions and health care. In a strike, the workers chose to withhold their services.

Everyday, thousands of Coloradans go to work to make sure our families have quality food. These grocery workers are striking because they deserve a fair deal from the major grocers.

What is a lockout? A lockout is when a company chooses to lockout employees and keep them from working. These workers will not have had the opportunity to vote on the contract because their company chose to lock them out instead

As of May 8, 2009 King Soopers revealed that they have an agreement with Safeway that says that if Safeway employees vote to strike King Soopers will lockout their employees. The companies have refused to disclose whether they have agreed to share resources in such a situation.

How can I help? You can support Colorado's grocery workers by:

Telling your story at

Becoming a fan of our Facebook page

Following @servingyou on twitter to stay informed with updates or joining the conversation by using the hash tag #dontcross in your own tweets

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts