Business

King Soopers Striker on the Picket Line: "It's Been Sheer Hell"

Three King Soopers employees on the picket line at a southwest Jefferson County store early on January 12.
Three King Soopers employees on the picket line at a southwest Jefferson County store early on January 12. Photo by Michael Roberts
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.

After the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 rejected what was described as "the last and best" contract offer from King Soopers, the largest grocery chain in Colorado, union members went on strike at 5 a.m. today, January 12. But while this timing might have made sense at many branches in metro Denver, it was a bit premature for the one at 11747 West Ken Caryl Avenue, in unincorporated Jefferson County. Since the store doesn't open until six, there were no customers with whom strikers could  discuss a labor action that's currently slated to run until February 2.

As a result, the picket line outside the main entrance was more of a small cluster: four employees, as well as a representative of the union on hand for support. But one staffer was by far the most vocal of the group. She was the one who explained to her colleagues that they had to demonstrate for at least four hours in order to get payments from Local 7 intended to tide them over; if they stuck around for eight hours, they'd receive more.

The woman, who's worked at this particular King Soopers for two decades (she started a few years after the last King Soopers strike, in 1996) didn't want her photo to be taken and declined to provide her name. But she had plenty to say.

For example, striking was an easy decision. "We've been through a lot — a lot — over our last contracts. At one point, a lot of things were taken away, but Kim" — Kim Cordova, the president of Local 7 — "and the committee made up of our peers were able to bring a lot of things back. But now, through the pandemic, through the holidays, it's just been sheer hell for all of us."

How so?

"We are so understaffed in our stores that we've actually had to work eighty hours a week just trying to put stuff on our shelves," she noted. Employees do receive overtime pay, "and that's one of the things we're fighting to keep," she stressed. "They're trying to maneuver to get rid of overtime," or at least to accept limits on it, "and that's not right. We are the foundation that keeps this company afloat."
click to enlarge King Soopers managers looking at picketers through the locked front doors of a southwest Jeffco store before opening time on January 12. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
King Soopers managers looking at picketers through the locked front doors of a southwest Jeffco store before opening time on January 12.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Workers "are the pride and joy of King Soopers, which is one of the divisions of Kroger that makes the most money," she went on. "King Soopers is a staple in Colorado. I'm the fourth- or fifth-generation shopper at King Soopers. That's how far back we go."

Right now, however, the staffer admitted that because of rising prices, she can't afford many of the items the store sells. "I probably give back a third of my paycheck every week to feed my family of two; it's just me and my husband and our puppies," she said. "Everybody's yelling and griping and moaning about our prices, but everybody's prices are going up — and we are not surviving."

She revealed that "we have people living in their cars who work here. In our break room, we have a food pantry; Kroger set up a food pantry that's called Feeding America, and they put stuff in there for people who can't afford to bring a lunch to work. That speaks volumes as to what's going on."

Because this conversation took place prior to 6 a.m., the worker hadn't yet seen any longtime patrons crossing the picket line — but she was already processing how to react when that happens.

"How will that make me feel?" she wondered. "I don't put my feelings first. I stand up for my beliefs, and I stand up for the people who are being hurt — and if there's something being done wrong, I try and fix it. That's who I am. So whether they cross the picket line or not, that's on them. What comes around goes around."

Meanwhile, she concluded: "We're standing strong. We're standing together and saying 'Enough is enough.' We're tired of working eighty hours a week. We're tired of trying to meet the demands of the company on a skeleton crew — literally a skeleton crew. We're just tired. We are all exhausted."

And the strike is just getting underway.
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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