Business

Possible King Soopers Strike as Soon as This Weekend

Kroger operates 148 King Soopers stores in Colorado.
Kroger operates 148 King Soopers stores in Colorado. Google Maps
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.

The overwhelming majority of union workers at King Soopers stores in the greater metro area have voted to authorize a strike over allegedly unfair labor practices. Because the contract between King Soopers and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 expires at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, January 8, walkouts could start as soon as the next day.

A King Soopers spokesperson denies the claims and reveals that the company is considering an assortment of legal actions.

This could get ugly, and fast.

There's plenty of bad blood between King Soopers, the largest grocery chain in Colorado (including stores that operate under the City Market banner), and Local 7, which represents approximately 17,000 workers at 148 stores in Colorado and two in Wyoming. In December 2020, for example, the union pushed its call for a return of so-called "hero" pay — a $2-per-hour bump given to employees during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — by projecting images (some featuring Dr. Seuss's Grinch character) on selected branches.

According to the union, a strike vote for greater Denver was called "in the middle of a critical bargaining process with King Soopers and following unfair labor practices from the company. UFCW Local 7 filed suit against King Soopers last week for breach of contract over vendors in the stores."

The summary of the complaint, filed on December 29, reads:
For decades, employees at King Soopers stores in Colorado have been represented by Local 7 under collective bargaining agreements that define the scope of exclusive bargaining unit work, and expressly limit the work that third parties can perform in the stores.

Defendant faces a labor shortage of its own making – by fostering an unsafe work environment that shows no respect for its hardworking employees, Defendant has failed to retain and struggles to hire sufficient staff to meet customer demand. Further demonstrating this, Defendant has hired non-bargaining unit workers to keep its shelves stocked and its customers happy — expecting to hire and fire these workers at a whim, knowing it will not be forced to provide them any paid time off, or any of the pension or healthcare guarantees Union employees have by contract.

In doing so, Defendant has violated numerous collective bargaining agreements between the parties — all of which prevent such third-party vendor work in the stores — and which has caused incalculable harm to bargaining unit members who have lost work, and therefore pay and benefits.

As the representative of these bargaining unit employees, Local 7 has implored the Defendant to cease this practice. Defendant has simultaneously admitted and denied its conduct and has refused to cease using third parties to perform bargaining unit work. If unrestrained, Defendant will continue to violate the parties’ agreements to maximize its profits over the welfare of its workforce.
The vote was held on January 2 "as a result of the Company’s campaign of unfair labor practices, which have been undertaken in an effort to prevent workers from securing a new contract advancing wages, health and retirement benefits, and ensuring a safe place for employees to work and customers to shop," the union says. Local 7 reveals that the strike authorization was supported by 98 percent of Denver retail workers, 97 percent of Denver meat workers, 100 percent of Boulder meat workers, 100 percent of Broomfield meat and retail workers, and 100 percent of Parker meat workers.

Note that a strike vote for King Soopers workers in Colorado Springs was scheduled for yesterday, January 3. The union has not yet released the results.

Kim Cordova, Local 7's president and the vice president of UCFW International, offered this statement about the Denver-area vote: "King Soopers and its leadership continue to neglect and ignore the voices of the Union and its employees. The results of the Unfair Labor Strike from January 2 are in. Denver employees have overwhelmingly voted to strike. ... The Company must cease these unrelenting and illegal tactics. King Soopers and City Market have missed a golden opportunity to show workers and customers that as the industry leader, they want to make their stores the best places to work in Colorado. Local 7 will not rest until we secure a contract that respects, protects, and pays these essential grocery workers.”

Jessica Trowbridge, speaking for King Soopers, disputes these assertions.

"We take our obligation to provide our communities with access to fresh food and other essentials very seriously," she stresses, before posing a rhetorical question: "At a time when Coloradans are coming together to support our communities, the UFCW LOCAL 7 is threatening disruption?"

She continues: "Let’s be clear, Local 7 issued a strike authorization vote related to alleged unfair labor practices. These allegations are just that, allegations, as King Soopers/City Market has followed the law and has NOT received any notice of wrongdoing from the National Labor Relations Board."

As for the negotiations, "We are focused on negotiating in good faith a contract that puts more money in our associates' pockets," Trowbridge says. "Last week King Soopers provided a comprehensive offer that included $145 million in new wage investments — a proposal that the UFCW Local 7 have yet to counteroffer. ... We care deeply about our associates and know that a work stoppage creates a troubling position that often leads to financial hardships for our associates."

Trowbridge contends that associates have paid Local 7 "nearly $20 million over the last three years," as seen in this graphic supplied by King Soopers:
As a result, she asks the union "to put people before politics...and negotiate on their behalf. ... We remain committed to bargaining in good faith and to settling a contract that is good for our associates while keeping groceries affordable for our customers."

One more thing: Trowbridge divulges that "the company is in the process of filing unfair labor practice charges against the union president and Local 7 for its bad faith bargaining and tactics as well as pursuing other legal action for unlawful conduct."

Click to read UCFW Local 7 v. King Soopers.
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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