By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – Thousands of King Soopers employees walked off the job Wednesday morning after negotiations between the company and union representing about 17,000 workers fell apart. On Tuesday, the union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, denied King Soopers’ final offer, which included an investment of $170 million over three years for wage increases and bonuses for existing employees.

The company said the offer would also raise the starting salary to $16 an hour and include health care investments that would keep premiums low.

(credit: CBS)

In a press release, UFCW Local 7 called the offer “unacceptable” and said the company has failed to respond to critical requests and data. King Soopers president Joe Kelley called the decision to strike “reckless,” and said the union is “putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money into our associates’ pockets.”

RELATED: King Soopers Strike: Battle Over Contract To Continue On Picket Line

The union is demanding better safety precautions, higher wages, and affordable health care for employees. The current strike marks the largest labor dispute for the company in 26 years.

“We deserve to be paid. We deserve to be protected, and we deserve to be doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Faythe Utsey, an employee at the King Soopers located at 13th and Krameria Street.

(credit: CBS)

Utsey and her coworkers picketed outside the store all day Wednesday, urging shoppers to go to the Safeway across the street. Many customers complied, and for most of the day, the parking lot at Safeway was far busier than King Soopers’.

“Even if I had to travel like five miles, I would have done it because it’s that important,” said Colette Duranleau.

While 95% of union members voted to strike, some are still on the fence. Laurie Delmonico, a floral clerk at the store’s Capitol Hill location, said for now, she is neither working nor picketing.

“I’m not sure what all we’re out there trying to do,” Delmonico said. “The time is ripe, and I can appreciate why the union is doing it this way, I just am not so sure it’s necessary.”

Still many coworkers disagree and said they’re prepared to continue picketing for up to three weeks.

(credit: CBS)

“All we want to do is serve our community and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Utsey.

Utsey and her coworkers said they are appreciative of how supportive the community was for the first day of the strike. Some community members joined the picket lines, and others dropped off food and coffee to show their support.

“They’ve got a hard job and they’re fighting for what they need and i think everyone should support them,” said Adam Mueller.

UFCW’s strike impacts nearly 80 grocery stores in Colorado, including:

– Arvada (Sheridan Boulevard, Candelas Parkway, 64th Avenue, Wadsworth Boulevard, 58th Avenue)
– Aurora (Colfax Avenue, Hampden Avenue, Havana Street, Buckley Road, Peoria Street, Smoky Hill Road, South Parker Road, 17000 Iliff Avenue, Mississippi Avenue)
– Boulder (30th Street)
– Boulder/Gunbarrel (Lookout Road)
– Broomfield (Sheridan Boulevard, Highway 287, 136th Avenue)
– Centennial (Arapahoe Road, University Boulevard, Holly Street)
– Commerce City (62nd Avenue, 104th Avenue)
– Denver (Colorado Boulevard, MLK Boulevard, 1950 Chestnut Place, Quebec Street, Green Valley Ranch Boulevard, Florida Avenue, 2727 Evans Avenue, Monaco Parkway, 9th Avenue, Hampden Avenue, Sheridan Boulevard, Krameria Street, Speer Boulevard)
– Edgewater (Sheridan Boulevard)
– Englewood (Englewood Parkway, University Boulevard, Federal Boulevard, Sheridan Boulevard)
– Evergreen (Bergen Parkway)
– Federal Heights (84th Avenue, 84th Avenue)
– Glendale (Leetsdale Drive)
– Golden (South Golden Road)
– Greenwood Village (Holly Street, Yosemite Street)
– Highlands Ranch (Quebec Street, 3000 Red Cedar Drive, University Boulevard, Wildcat Reserve Parkway)
– Lakewood (Alameda Avenue, Alameda Parkway, 1555 Quail Street, Kipling Parkway, Wadsworth Boulevard)
– Littleton (Wadsworth Boulevard, Littleton Boulevard, South Broadway, Belleview Avenue, 6760 Pierce Street, Ken Caryl Avenue)
– Louisville (South Boulder Road)
– Parker (Cottonwood Drive, Lincoln Avenue, South Parker Road)
– Thornton (120th Avenue, 104th Avenue)
– Westminster (Wadsworth Parkway, Federal Boulevard)
– Wheat Ridge (Sheridan Boulevard, Youngfield Street)

Conor McCue