The contentious contract negotiations between King Soopers management and the union representing 17,000 grocery workers in Colorado and Wyoming remains unresolved. And now, the S word has been uttered.
Officials with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 said Thursday that a pre-authorization strike vote will be held Sunday in Denver and Monday in Colorado Springs. A vote to strike would affect 87 King Sooper stores in Colorado. Sister store City Market, which is also owned by the Kroger Co., is not impacted in the strike because its contract isn’t up until Jan. 29.
The strike would likely happen on Jan. 9, a day after the existing contract expires.
“It’s unfortunate that instead of working directly with Local 7, King Soopers has opted to make unfair, unilateral changes to its policies with no regard to what is being discussed currently at the bargaining table,” said Kim Cordova, vice president of UFCW International and president of UFCW Local 7 in Colorado and Wyoming, in a statement.
While the grocer offered pay increases, the union balked at concessions, such as increased health care premiums, overtime limits and other reductions in benefits. Union officials said workers also will lose more pandemic benefits, such as emergency leave or support with COVID expenses, on Jan. 16. Hazard pay ended two months into the pandemic.
The union, which also represents local grocery workers at Safeway and Albertsons, has been trying to get more of those safer work provisions in place, even as they say King Soopers has now contracted with a third-party company to provide non-union labor.
“These significant policy changes disrespect our workers and undermine their voices,” Cordova said. “We have no choice but to enter this pre-strike vote. We need to make sure King Soopers and its leadership fully comprehend the importance of respecting, protecting, and paying essential grocery workers what they deserve, which is what we will continue to fight for.”
Jessica Trowbridge, a King Soopers spokeswoman, said Thursday that the grocer must balance between investing in wages and keeping food affordable for customers.
She said the company’s offer to improve pay amounts to $145 million in new wages over the next four years, or 50-cents more per hour for a checker with five years of experience. Dollar-wise, the checker’s hourly wage would increase to $20.01 in the new contract, compared to the existing $19.51 an hour. The rate would increase 50-cents a year until 2025, when it reaches $21.51 an hour.
“Our goal in presenting a comprehensive offer, that included a $145 million investment in new wages, at this early stage of negotiations was to provide certainty to our valued associates,” Trowbridge said in an email. “We remain committed to continuing to engage in good faith bargaining with the UFCW Local 7, that’s what’s best for our associates and the communities we serve. Any efforts contrary to these goals are misguided and threaten more disruption during these unprecedented times.”
Approximately 58% of King Soopers employees are union members, according to the grocer.
The union also sued King Soopers on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Denver for violating the collective bargaining contract and hiring temporary, non-union employees to work.
Trowbridge said the company is “disappointed” with the lawsuit since there is a grievance and arbitration process outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, but cannot comment further on pending litigation.