More than 12,000 workers at King Soopers and City Market stores across Colorado will decide later this week whether to strike over low wages and benefit cuts, the union representing them has announced.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 says that it has officially scheduled a series of strike votes for Thursday, March 14, at the Denver Mart, and Friday, March 15, at the Denver Marriott Tech Center. Members have been asked to authorize a strike after negotiations between the company and union broke down late last week.
"Authorizing a strike is a difficult decision for any worker," UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in a statement. "But we are committed to making King Soopers and City Market a better place to both work and shop. We remain hopeful that the company will come to the table with an offer that provides King Soopers and City Market workers with the benefits they have earned and deserve."
The two sides have been negotiating a new labor agreement since December. Their previous three-year contract expired in January but remained under a mutual extension until the union withdrew on February 25, saying that bargaining had produced "little progress…on a wide variety of critical issues."
In a statement issued following last week's breakdown in talks, King Soopers claimed that "the facts have been misrepresented." The company says that it has committed to "significant investments in our associates," including an "increase in wages, incremental investments to the employee pension plan, [and] continued investment to best in class healthcare at no additional cost."
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In a notice sent to union members on Monday, UFCW Local 7 outlined a long list of objections to the company's latest offer. Its proposal would leave workers' health and pension plans badly underfunded, the union says, and many employees would receive minimal pay increases over the course of the new three-year agreement, not enough to keep up with rising costs of living.
"The company's wage offer prevents our members from having enough money to provide for themselves and their families," the union says. "Workers will no longer be able to live in the city in which they work."
King Soopers is Colorado's largest supermarket chain, accounting for roughly half of grocery sales statewide, and its corporate parent, Kroger, is the largest traditional grocery retailer in the country. Kroger reported a profit of more than $3.1 billion in 2018, according to a company press release last week. In an announcement last year, the company said that the windfall it received from Republicans' federal tax cut in December 2017 would allow it to accelerate a "$500 million investment in associate wages, training and development."
If Local 7 members vote to authorize a strike, it would be the first time they've done so since 1996, when a strike by workers at both King Soopers and Safeway lasted for more than six weeks.