By Karen Morfitt

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

DENVER (CBS4) – Empty shelves, department closures and staffing issues at some stores will be more widespread should union workers at King Soopers strike.

“We are about a-day-and-a-half away from engaging in the largest labor dispute involving grocery workers since 1996,” union president Kim Cordova said.

Cordova says with the approval of a majority of their members the stores in the greater Denver metro area will be the first to picket.

(credit: CBS)

King Soopers division President Joe Kelley says the company is preparing.

“We have brought in 300, 400 people from across the country from some of our sister companies in Kroger. We have also been hiring temp workers the best we could. You know what the work market looks like,” Kelley said.

Already, stores have been operating with roughly 2,400 fewer employees. The staff that remains says it’s an issue.

“Spills on the floor are there for hours, that we can’t get to because we are stuck in check stands. Customers are irate because departments are closed and they take it out on us,” one employee and union member said.

Better safety precautions, more than $16 an hour to start and affordable health care are among the things the union wants.

“These out-of-state reps are not in touch with the climate the high cost of living and housing. They don’t understand our contracts, and they don’t understand Colorado values,” Cordova said.

(credit: CBS)

Kelley says the company presented what they considered a fair proposal and then communication stopped.

“They rejected our initial proposal within an hour, so they didn’t even negotiate. We brought $148 million to the table in wages, the largest investment in wages we have ever made at King Soopers and City Markets,” he said. “A negotiation is just that, right, a back and forth.”

Before they can return to bargaining a contract they first have negotiate how to get back to the table.

Before that will happen, the union says they want a federal mediator out of the picture saying it bogs down the discussions, and they have been asking for information about operations they say is critical to writing and evaluating proposals

The company, meanwhile, believes the offer made would be approved if union members voted, but according to Cordova it was contingent on if the unions bargaining committee approved, they rejected it, leaving members no option to vote.

Karen Morfitt