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King Soopers in Greenwood Village on Dec. 30, 2021. It's one of 87 grocery stores that are negotiating new contracts with employees. The contract expires Jan. 8, 2022. (Dale Taylor, Special to The Colorado Sun)

King Soopers union members plan to walk off the job to protest unfair labor practices on Wednesday because negotiations on a new contract have failed to reach a resolution, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 officials said Friday.

The strike will affect 87 grocery stores mostly in the Front Range and approximately 8,400 Colorado workers.

“This is a direct result of the company’s bad faith at the bargaining table,” Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, said in a statement. “King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages. Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families. This is grossly unfair. King Soopers has chosen to enrich its bottom line, instead of protecting workers who have risked their lives on the front lines.”

The existing contract expires Saturday. Union members will start the strike at 5 a.m. on Wednesday and plan to picket for three weeks, until Feb. 2.

King Soopers officials called the move “reckless and disruptive,” because the accusation of unfair labor practices confuses workers about what was at issue: a new contract. The company said it offered $148 million in new wage increases, which would pay 75% of associates more than $18 an hour plus benefits. 

“We think our associates should have a right to vote on the comprehensive best offer to settle, because ultimately it impacts their pockets, as does a strike,” Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers said in a statement on Friday. “We know that a work stoppage creates a troubling position that often leads to financial hardships for our associates.”

The union sued King Soopers last week in U.S. District Court in Denver for violating the collective bargaining contract and hiring non-union temporary workers. On Tuesday, King Soopers said it planned to file its own action against the union for unfair labor practice and “bad faith bargaining and tactics as well as pursuing other legal action for unlawful conduct.” 

While UFCW Local 7 represents about 17,000 workers in Colorado and Wyoming, not all union members — or all Front Range King Soopers stores — were part of the strike vote. Stores in Lafayette and Erie, for example, employ non-union workers. Other Local 7 union members are part of other contract negotiations, including City Market employees who are not part of the strike because their contract isn’t up until Jan. 29.

The union posted on social media its “strike benefits,” which will pay full-time picketing members $160 a day with a maximum of $800 per week. For those who don’t work the picket line, but also don’t cross it, there is $100 per week in honor pay available.

King Soopers increased its investment offer into worker wages this week and shared that the higher $148 million investment, up from $145 million last week, would mean a $1 per hour raise this year for a checker with five years of experience.

In the scenario, the checker, who earns $19.51 an hour now, would receive $20.51. The wage would increase 80-cents per year for the next two years and reach $22.11 an hour in 2024.

“For a full-time checker their annual compensation would be nearly $46,000 annually, in addition to their industry leading healthcare and pension benefits,” Jessica Trowbridge, King Soopers spokeswoman said.

Union officials said the pay raise was accompanied by too many concessions, such as reducing opportunities for overtime, increasing health care premiums and giving non-union gig workers more seniority in scheduling. They said the grocer has reduced pandemic benefits available to essential workers by limiting emergency leave and help with a worker’s COVID expenses. Hazard pay ended two months into the pandemic.

King Soopers said that what was characterized as an increase in health care costs is a $50 surcharge on unvaccinated workers enrolled in company health plans. Hourly associates covered by the company’s health plan or those covered by the collective bargaining agreement are excluded from the surcharge.  

Unvaccinated employees also will not be eligible for paid leave if they get COVID. 

“The special leave will remain available to fully vaccinated associates who may have breakthrough cases,” Trowbridge said.

This story was updated at 2:48 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2022 with new comments from King Soopers and new details on the proposed wage increase.

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...