Workers at King Soopers and City Market stores went on strike in Colorado early Wednesday morning, escalating a contract fight between parent company Kroger and the employee union.
The workers’ collective bargaining agreement expired last week after they rejected an offer from the company. Then they turned down what Kroger called its “last, best and final” proposal on Tuesday night, saying the company needed to offer better pay raises and benefits and stronger safety protocols to avoid the walkout.
The dispute involves more than 8,000 workers at 87 stores, most of them under the King Soopers banner. The workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, asked supporters not to shop at the stores during the work stoppage.
“Until the strike is resolved, please consider an alternative,” the union tweeted Tuesday night, urging supporters to chip in to the workers’ strike fund.
Cincinnati-based Kroger called the strike “reckless and self-serving.”
“Local 7 is putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money in our associates’ pockets,” Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Creating more disruption for our associates, their families, and Coloradans rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution is irresponsible and undemocratic.”
UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova laced into the company at a press conference on Monday, saying grocery workers had been mistreated throughout the pandemic while their employers raked in soaring profits.
“The companies were thriving, but our workers didn’t thrive,” Cordova said. “Know what our workers got? COVID. Attacked. Beat up. Spit on. Slapped. Overworked. And the company? They did great. They did absolutely great, sitting behind their desk doing their job by Zoom.”
Both the union and the company have accused one another of bargaining in bad faith, filing dueling charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The union said workers are formally striking over the company’s allegedly unfair labor practices, as opposed to pay and benefits, a legal distinction that could help protect workers from being permanently replaced at work.
Kroger said the stores under strike will remain open. Employers typically try to get by during a work stoppage by having salaried, nonunion workers take on the roles of strikers while bringing in whatever replacements they can find to cross the picket line.
King Soopers has been advertising jobs for replacement workers starting at $18 per hour. Cordova criticized the company for doing so on Monday, noting that its contract offer to union members included a $16 starting wage floor.
Kroger said its final offer would have led to wage increases of up to $4.50 in the first year of the contract for some workers, with presumably those at the bottom of the pay scale getting the largest bumps. But Cordova pointed out that $16 is only 13 cents above the city minimum wage in Denver, where several of the stores are located.
The company’s offer also included bonuses of $2,000 for most workers and $4,000 for those with a decade or more of service. Such “ratification bonuses” are common in collective bargaining agreements, especially when workers threaten to or go on strike, but the union urged members not to be “fooled” by the enticing payout.
The union said it was proposing an hourly pay rate that would be $6 higher than the company’s proposal by the end of the next contract.
“The ratification bonus is a one-time bonus that is gone as fast as hazard pay,” the union said.