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What’s Working: Coloradans feel inflation’s pain, make compromises on food and travel 

Denver’s inflation rate falls to 8.3% and most What’s Working readers surveyed aren’t better than they were last year. Plus: The Starbucks union efforts face pushback, more!

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Colorado’s 2022 began with grocery store employees at King Soopers from Colorado Springs to Denver voting to strike. Workers did, gained a ton of public support and ended up with a new contract that will lift pay for some workers by $5 an hour in the next three years.

It was the start of what’s been a busy year of unionizing efforts across Colorado, from nurses in Longmont voting to start one, a rally by New America School’s teachers in Lakewood and state employees getting expanded collective bargaining rights. And then there’s Starbucks, where a half-dozen stores in Denver and Colorado Springs filed to be represented, too. Now, trouble is afoot as workers at three stores allege employer retaliation. 

But first, inflation can’t be ignored. And What’s Working readers are feeling the pain of higher prices, which includes gasoline prices going up again, according to respondents to last week’s poll question: Are you better or worse? Nearly 50% said worse, while 38.5% said “Same.” A low 15.4% said “Better.”

It was a very small poll of more than two dozen participants, like What’s Working readers who are concerned about their economic future. But one reason for being better off this year compared to last year? “Inheritance,” said one person who lives in Washington Park.

For the most part, however, respondents were more like Greg Rogers, a Westminster resident who touched on higher living costs due to rent, gas and food prices.

“For groceries, buying the deals and eating less meat,” Rogers said. “I moved from Superior to Westminster to lower the impact of an 18% rent increase, and I reduced my cable choices. I walk to do short errands and shopping trips to save on gas.”

Nationwide, prices for consumer products increased 8.6% for everything in urban areas in May compared to a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. Broken down by category, food costs for eating at home rose 11.9%, while all energy costs were up 34.6%. No surprise: gasoline and motor oil had the highest increases, at 48.7% and 106.7% respectively.

In the Denver area, prices were up 8.3% in May, so slightly less than the national climb and lower than April, when prices rose 9.1%. The May figure includes a 9.8% increase in groceries from a year ago (and up 3% since March), a 33% increase in gas prices and 5.5% increase in electricity prices. Minus food and energy, Denverites experienced a 7.1% increase overall, mostly due to higher rent (up 7.4%), medical care (up 10.3%) and buying a used car or truck (up 18.9%).

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

That puts Colorado slightly lower than the U.S. for May and that may be because prices show up faster in the state than elsewhere, said Steven L. Byers, senior economist at the Common Sense Institute, a conservative-leaning economic think tank in Greenwood Village.

“One possible explanation is that Colorado emerged out of the downturn quicker than the nation as a whole and that this sped up pricing pressure as Coloradans returned to work sooner than the nation as a whole,” Byers said. 

Colorado also did see higher food and transportation price increases as well as general prices of services in the May update then the U.S., he pointed out.

Since 2020, CSI’s own calculation has Colorado households spending $5,880 more since 2020.

Martin Bruno, a retired reader from Littleton on a fixed income, now feels even more pain than when he took the What’s Working poll earlier this week.

“At some point we will have to decide between driving and groceries if gas continues to go up,” Bruno virtually sighed in an email Thursday.

>> View CSI’s inflation in Colorado report

>> Take the poll: It’s 2022. Are you better or worse?

Take the What’s Working poll for 2022 at https://cosun.co/ww-inflation

Inflation Watch

Sorry to add more pain, but according to AAA Colorado, the state’s average per-gallon gas price went up 34 cents since last week to $4.83, as of Friday. At the top, drivers in Durango are seeing $5.03 per gallon and at the low end, it’s $4.75 on average in the Fort Collins and Loveland area. 

Demand isn’t expected to subside, which means gas prices will continue to increase. Besides the summer traveling season, demand is also expected from China as the country emerges from COVID lockdowns that reduced demand, according to AAA. 

The prices are displayed above the various grades of gasoline available at a Conoco station Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

→Blame bird flu. The avian influenza outbreak in Iowa and surrounding states (including Colorado) is responsible for a 10.3% increase in retail egg prices, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. That’s also contributed to the low stock of frozen chicken. Poultry prices are now predicted to increase between 8.5% and 9.5%, and egg prices are predicted to increase between 19.5% and 20.5%. >> Read report

→ Target is raising prices. You wouldn’t know it from reading the retailer’s news release, which mentions “additional markdowns” before stating, “pricing actions to address the impact of unusually high transportation and fuel costs.” But it is, as Patch Connecticut translates.

→ Costco holds off on hiking membership fees, Puget Sound Business Journal reports. And it’s keeping the cost of its signature hot dog and drink meal at $1.50, the same as it’s been since it was introduced in the mid-1980s, chimes in Axios.

→A way around it? Shrinkflation. Companies are shrinking their offerings instead of raising prices to mask inflation, including Domino’s Pizza, which shrunk its 10-piece chicken wings meal to eight, reports Associated Press.

Got an inflation watch tip? Share it at tamara@coloradosun.com

Starbucks workers allege retaliation for unionizing

Since Jan. 1, workers at nearly two dozen companies have filed for the right to be represented, including caregivers at The Bridge at Longmont assisted living to tree trimmers at Asplundh Tree Expert in Cortez, ballet dancers at Boulder Ballet to baristas at Starbucks in Denver and Colorado Springs, according to filings with the National Labor Relations Board. 

But after winning the right to unionize, there’s trouble brewing for three Denver-area Starbucks stores, which allege that the prolific coffee seller has retaliated against workers.

Denver’s 16th and Tremont Starbucks is seen on March 4, the metro’s second location to independently unionize. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“Every day more workers are getting in touch to organize their stores, and Starbucks can only delay the inevitable, but at the cost of goodwill and their reputation, not to mention legal fees and injunctions,” said Malachi Dray, an organizer from Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United who is working with local Starbucks workers. 

In filings with the NLRB, workers at the stores at 16th Street Mall, Colfax (The Barn) and on Leetsdale Drive, the union alleged that Starbucks reduced store hours, engaged in surveillance of employees and threatened one worker while terminating another “because she engaged in protected concerted activities and after the store’s employees collectively voted in support of Union representation,” according to the filing.

“Unfortunately, Starbucks knows all too well that they can afford to violate the NLRA and overwhelm the legal process for injunctions and remedies on their violations. They are banking on the terror-effect of their retaliation scaring other workers away from unionizing sooner than the Board can right their wrongs. But this reckless strategy is catching up with them day by day, as federal trials are scheduled for their labor law violations, including in Denver,” Dray said in an email.

Firing a worker only because they engaged in union-related activity isn’t allowed in Colorado.

Starbucks says that didn’t happen.

“Claims of union busting are false,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email. 

Teachers, students, parents and supporters march around the parking lot during a rally outside the The New America School Lakewood campus just prior to a charter school network board meeting, demanding union rights for NAS charter school teachers. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

The company is among many large employers facing union efforts in their ranks. Nationwide, the momentum has grown. Amazon workers at a New York warehouse became the company’s first in the nation to unionize in April after years of attempts in other states. (Amazon plans to appeal, The Wall Street Journal reported.) But there seems to be something about 2022. So far this year, workers at Apple stores, outdoor retailer REI, game developer Activision Blizzard and even Trader Joe’s have said they’re moving forward.

“What makes 2022 so special is that workers have unusual power in the labor market at this time. Because of the Great Resignations, withdrawals from the labor force, and heightened demand for labor as a consequence of economic growth, workers are in a better position than they have been for a long time. Unionization efforts are probably taking place in workplaces where employers have not fully understood or adapted to the new conditions.

“What makes 2022 so special is that workers have unusual power in the labor market at this time. Because of the Great Resignations, withdrawals from the labor force, and heightened demand for labor as a consequence of economic growth, workers are in a better position than they have been for a long time,” Jeffrey Zax, a professor of economics and labor expert at the University of Colorado. “Unionization efforts are probably taking place in workplaces where employers have not fully understood or adapted to the new conditions.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

In Denver, Starbucks employees have said a big reason for unionizing was to get a seat at the table, especially when it came to keeping their stores secure so employees feel safe. The company already offered health benefits, though higher pay is also a goal.

Starbucks is facing unionizing efforts nationwide with the Starbucks Workers United claiming more than 135 stores are in solidarity. The company says it prefers to be partners with its workforce.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country. Starbucks success — past, present, and future — is built on how we partner together, always with our mission and values at our core,” according to a company statement. “We’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”

→ Local Starbucks workers are holding a rally today, Saturday, June 11, at 3 p.m. at the State Capital at 200 E Colfax Ave in Denver. 

Thoughts from What’s Working inbox

I’m trying a few new things in What’s Working to gauge reader interest. Many share questions and comments and I typically respond to everyone (if I didn’t reply to yours, please accept my apologies. So, please try again). This week, I’m sharing a few, with permission, like the old-timey letters to the editor in the newspaper. 

The fact is that this column is meant to be a resource of vetted information and news. I interview economists and other experts who are paid to figure out what the numbers mean. Then I talk to real people, which informs my reporting. But I can’t get to everything. So here are two comments from readers spurred by last week’s column and edited for clarity.

I am wondering if you have any insight into why  people vote as they do? Given this article’s statistical data about what people want the government to do, it seems they haven’t voted that way. If you had any insights into that it would help me understand what’s going on politically!! ~ Yvonne Green.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Regarding inflation being blamed on supply chain issues, the labor shortage and the Russian war in Ukraine: 

The blamed reasons are secondary causes of broad-based inflation, not primary. The primary cause has been massive government spending combined with expansionary monetary policy. More regulation and taxes will make the problem worse, not better.  History has proven this time & again without exception. It saddens me deeply to learn that people believe more government intervention is the antidote for the negative consequences of government intervention. I suppose I should not be surprised by the opinion expressed by our fellow Coloradans. There are always negative unintended consequences to regulation of free market forces and we voted for it. Now we get to live it. ~ Ross Kasner

If you have a response, email me at tamara@coloradosun.com (and if this takes off, perhaps we can figure out how to have some civil comments or message boards in the future). 


More working bits

→ Wage theft no more! Gov. Jared Polis signed the Wage Theft Employee Misclassification Enforcement bill this week. It empowers the attorney general and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to collaborate on cases where workers are not receiving their share of wages owed. This gives CDLE means to recover unpaid wages and place liens on employer properties. >> Read Senate Bill 161

→ It’s Workplace Safety Month in Colorado — June started with the deaths of two Xcel Energy subcontractors trapped under 80 feet of coal at a Pueblo power plant. That somber reminder and this being Colorado Workplace Safety Month has the state labor department sharing a tip that could save lives: the Premium Cost Containment Program. It assesses a company’s safety practices and provides certification, which could lead to a reduction in workers’ compensation premiums of up to 10% not to mention protecting workers. >> Details

→ It’s Pride month. SBA has tips. Equity is an issue that companies are being forced to deal with partly because dealing with it could improve working conditions and attract more employees. There are also legal reasons. As part of Pride month to focus on LGBTQ+-owned small businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration is hosting a free webinar to discuss financial well-being and support. >> Details

→ How to save money? Work from home — While remote work was definitely a thing during the pandemic for many office workers, Americans who could work from home saved $281.61 per month, according to digital coupon site CouponBirds, which conducted a survey of 3,206 people in May. But in Colorado, the savings were just $60.79 per month. Perhaps that’s because Coloradans face some of the highest inflation rates in the nation, thanks to higher housing costs, food and other items. >> See survey 

→ Who’s hiring? The state’s official job board at connectingcolorado.com has 120,289 open jobs as of Friday. Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar has 200 openings at its new Highlands Ranch location opening this summer (openings). The Colorado Department of Transportation is hosting a job fair today, June 11, from 8 a.m. to noon at 18500 E. Colfax Ave. in Aurora (see event details).

Hey employers: Share your job openings (pay, link and number of openings) and I’ll mention it. Just visit cosun.co/heyww


We’re reworking What’s Working and will be seeking reader input very soon. Stay tuned. But as always, reach out with tips, suggestions and stories. Hang in there if you’re worse off, share the love if you’re doing better, and if it’s status quo, keep reading The Colorado Sun! See you next week. ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. Read the archive, send a message and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter in your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww

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