By Jamie Leary

UPDATE: King Soopers Strike Begins, Union Says Grocery Store Has ‘Unfair Labor Practices’

DENVER (CBS4) – The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7, Kim Cordova, says King Soopers stores across the Denver metro area will strike Wednesday morning. Cordova says the likelihood that more King Soopers/City Market stores will do the same once contracts expire is high.

King Soopers sent a letter to the union just before midnight on Friday saying it has provided an offer to the union with unprecedented economic benefits and what it believes are otherwise excellent terms and conditions of employment.

The letter goes on to say the company is interested in attempting to resolve the parties’ differences and achieve a new labor agreement rather than experience a labor dispute. King Soopers requested to meet and bargain immediately.

(credit: CBS)

The union did not return to the bargaining table on Saturday but says it’s willing to do so at an appropriate time. The union says it will extend its deadline for a contract until Wednesday morning a 4:59 a.m.

Cordova, in her response on behalf of the union, says the most recent proposal from the company, although insufficient to meet the needs of workers, nonetheless represented movement on several items.

Cordova told CBS4 on Tuesday the raise offered by the Kroger, the parent company, was 13 cents over minimum wage and the overall package did nothing to address the hazards of the pandemic and general safety concerns.

“The working conditions in our stores are very dangerous and safety is a big priority, and the company has absolutely come to the table and not addressed any of those issues. At the same time, they’re not bargaining in good faith and violating the law so there’s the unfair labor practices and because of that. Because of their actions, we will be striking on Wednesday,” said Cordova.

Kroger said earlier this week it was offering wage increases of up to $4.50 in the first year of employment and signing bonuses over the next three years. It also says it does not project health care increases through 2025.

After 17 hours of negotiations the union and Kroger, the parent company of the grocery stores, could not come to an agreement.

On Friday, King Soopers’ president called the union’s decision to strike “reckless” and “disruptive.” Kroger’s Senior Director of Labor Relations issued another statement Saturday morning imploring the union to find time to meet to come to an agreement.

UCFW Local 7 tells CBS4 they will not return to negotiations on Saturday.

“The court of public opinion is on its side as it usually is, and I think they’re sort of unafraid to take things further,” said Darren Duber-Smith, a Senior Marketing Lecturer at Metropolitan State University, of the union.

Duber-Smith says while the union has the ability to push the grocery giant some, it might be time for the union to find some common ground.

“I think it’s really challenging at a time when there’s a labor shortage and inflation. We’ve got the worst inflation we’ve had also really since I was in middle school that’s causing retailers to raise their prices,” said Duber-Smith. “Does the public appreciate the timing of this? Does the public see this as sort of a way for a group of people, the union, to sort of bully the organization into getting what they want during a time where the pandemic has made things challenging for everyone?”

Cordova said people can expect to see picket lines at stores across the Denver metro area beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Customers have already noticed certain products are out of stock due to what King Soopers calls a change in buyer habits. It’s hiring temporary workers as part of a contingency plan to avoid disruptions due to the strike, but with so many other grocery options on top of a labor shortage, Duber-Smith believes that will be difficult.

“I think King Soopers is going to be hard pressed to find the temporary workers even at 18 bucks an hour to be able to fill the positions which means there’s certain things that are going to suffer, and I think customer service is one of the first things to go.”

The strike will involve around 8,400 workers at 74 stores. While not all will see picket lines, the ones with contracts set to expire Saturday include Denver, Boulder, Broomfield, Parker and Colorado Springs. Picket lines could occur at stores between those locations.

Jamie Leary