Business

King Soopers Store Struggles to Recover After Strike Ends

Much of the deli section in the King Soopers in southwest Jefferson County remained temporarily closed on Sunday, January 23.
Much of the deli section in the King Soopers in southwest Jefferson County remained temporarily closed on Sunday, January 23. Photo by Michael Roberts
Just before 6 a.m. on January 21, Kroger-owned King Soopers, Colorado's largest grocery chain, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 announced that protests related to a strike that began on January 12 would end thanks to a preliminary agreement on a new contract. Members are scheduled to vote on the pact today, January 24.

Although neither side is sharing many details related to pay rates, overtime rules or other issues, visits to a King Soopers branch in southwestern Jefferson County over the weekend offered reasons aplenty why the company, which had won a temporary restraining order limiting the size of picket lines and more last week, chose to settle rather than prolong the conflict.

I stopped by the outlet a few hours after news of the deal broke, and while Local 7 employees were free to return to work, it was clear that few, if any, had by then at this particular branch. The aisles were crowded with customers eager to restock their pantries, but just two checkout centers were open, with overwhelmed management personnel at the registers. The lines were ten or more carts long, creating a huge snarl at the front of the store, and most of the buggies were overloaded despite widespread shortages of goods. Entire sections were picked clean of items, with produce, meat and dairy staples among the missing.

Meanwhile, a burly, bearded and unmasked employee stood in the store's entryway with crossed arms as he closely watched each person who entered and exited. He occupied the spot where the store's greeter is typically posted, but his task was clearly security, not pleasantries.
click to enlarge The milk selection was still seriously depleted at the southwest Jefferson County King Soopers on Sunday, January 23. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
The milk selection was still seriously depleted at the southwest Jefferson County King Soopers on Sunday, January 23.
Photo by Michael Roberts
On Saturday morning, I returned to the store with my wife, who needed to pick up a prescription that had come in during the strike. But the pharmacy was closed even though we visited during its usual operating hours — and while the deli was ostensibly open, nearly every display cabinet was bare or close to it. The pre-cooked chicken we'd planned to purchase was nowhere to be found.

There was no one around to ask for help; once again, the only staffers who appeared to be on hand were managers desperately trying to check out an even larger number of customers than had shown up 24 hours earlier. (We didn't see anyone stocking shelves, which recalled footage of Gulf Coast retailers hammered by pre-hurricane panic-buying.) As a result, we drove to a nearby Safeway, which had everything we needed in stock.

The situation was slightly better at King Soopers on Sunday, when we usually make our purchases for the week. There were still lots of items missing and the pharmacy remained closed, but at least some of the union workers had returned, allowing more checkout stands to open. One explained that the pharmacy had been able to function for four hours on Saturday and should be back on a 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule this week. The staffer added that most of the other employees were coming back on Monday, in anticipation of the contract being approved by the rank and file. Asked if he was expecting it to receive a thumbs-up, he answered, "God, I hope so."

We're guessing that almost everyone involved, from King Soopers executives to union members and customers frustrated by the entire situation, feels the same way.
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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