Grocery-workers union recalls Soopers' first King

The contract dispute involving workers at King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons has been quiet of late, with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 7 seeking to maintain member loyalty during this period via releases about, for example, pension reductions that would go into effect if the store's latest contract offer was accepted. Now, with negotiations between UFCW and Safeway set to restart today, the union-bankrolled site is claiming philosophical support from an unlikely (and no-longer-living) source: Lloyd King, the late founder of King Soopers. A new release headlined "Mr. King Believed Being Good to King Soopers Workers Was Good for Business -- and So Should Kroger" notes that King was the first major grocer to settle in a 1952 strike, and implies that business improved as a result.

Buying that? Decide after reading the entire document, on view below.

Mr. King Believed Being Good to King Soopers Workers Was Good for Business -- and So Should Kroger

In November of 1947, Lloyd King opened his first King Soopers store in the Ralph E. Ashton Building on West 57th Avenue and Webster Street in Arvada. In a few short years, King expanded his operation to 5 stores. These businesses helped develop Arvada into the thriving suburb that it is today.

In addition to contributing to the economic growth of the metro area, King influenced the grocery business forever. King was the first in Colorado to introduce the concept of a self-service meat department. Traditionally, the meat department was counter-operated. King understood the desire for customers to have a convenient shopping experience and adapted to these needs. "He was one of the first grocery executives to introduce discount pricing - now called "everyday low pricing" - and helped pioneer the development of large stores that included bakeries, delicatessens and pharmacies." In fact, The Denver Post credits King with many firsts in the grocery business, "He was the first grocer in the Denver area to offer trading stamps in 1951, and he was the first grocer in the country to include a pharmacy in his grocery stores in 1952."

In November of 1952, Lloyd King made another wise and influential business decision. On November 1 of that year, 1,800 grocery employees in Denver went on strike. The strike lasted six weeks and workers did not return to work until December 20, 1952. During this strike, most of the major grocery stores had to close, including Miller's Super Markets, Safeway, Save-a-Nickel and Busley Super Market Co.

At issue in the strike was a forty-hour work week as well as wages. On November 6, less than one week into the strike, King Soopers signed a contract with the Retail Clerks Union Local 7 and the Amalgamated Butcher Workmen union Local 634. According to the Denver Post:

King's Sooper [sic] Markets, not represented through the council, signed with both unions for the forty-hour work week Thursday and no strike against that firms 5 stores would take place. Lloyd King, president of the firm, said his stores would remain open until 10 p.m. -- at least until other stores open after the strike - to serve the public.

The King Sooper contract was "interim" and allowed that should amendments be made by the major four when finally negotiated, the same amendments would apply to King's.

This decision would boost Kings' successes across the Denver area. Consumers chose to shop at King Soopers because Lloyd King supported the workers' struggle for fair wages and hours, and was also meeting consumers' needs. This decision increased King's customer base and helped him expand to 9 stores in the next few years.

In 1957 King Soopers merged with the Dillon Cos., and King continued as president of the King Soopers chain until 1972. In 1983, both King Soopers and City Market were acquired by Kroger Co.

In the time that Kroger has owned King Soopers the relationship with employees has deteriorated. In 1996 a contentious battle developed over contract negotiations. The workers went on strike May 11, 1996 and an agreement was not reached for 44 days. During this time, King Soopers joined Safeway in a multi-employer pact to bargain with Local 7 in order to demand more concessions from the workers.

Regardless of these moves, Denver consumers chose to stand by workers. According to the Denver Post, "The key factor creating the climate for a settlement was the resolve of so many consumers to not cross picket lines." King Soopers lost extensive revenue during the strike; in fact some analysts estimated that the two grocery chains' Colorado revenues were cut in half during the 44 day strike.

If treating workers fairly in 1952 was good enough for Mr. King, and was good for his business, it should be good enough for Kroger now.

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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