Today at At 5 a.m., more than 8,000 King Soopers union workers went on strike in nearly 80 stores in the Denver Metro Area. The strike comes after months of failed negotiations between United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 and Kroger-owned King Soopers. Trade union contracts expired at 23:59 on January 8th. Union workers and King Soopers were unable to reach a new contract before the deadline.
A week earlier, frustrated at the lack of progress during the negotiations, unionized stores across Colorado held a vote to strike against alleged unfair labor practices. Union workers voted overwhelmingly in favor.
As both parties are unable to reach an agreement before the set strike date, union workers are on strike throughout the Denver Metro Area, fighting for union contract proposals regarding workplace safety and fair work practices.
A review of negotiations and circumstances
UFCW Local 7 and King Soopers were engaged in negotiations for several months. The top priorities of union members include:
- Physically and mentally safe work environments
- Proper sanitary equipment and PPE
- Fair health care
- Full-time hours and overtime pay
- Liveable salary
According to Kim Cordova, UFCW Local 7 president, King Soopers failed to address any of the union’s priorities during the negotiations. UFCW Local 7 claims a combination of unfair work practices and an “unwillingness to negotiate in good faith” on behalf of King Soopers, Cordova said in a recent press release.
On January 4, union workers voted to go on strike. One week later, King Soopers asked UFCW Local 7 to return to the table and offer a federal broker. The union refused to return to the table without detailed information about health care and employee safety. Today is the first day of the union workers’ strike.
King Soopers employees in Denver are currently starting in part-time roles for minimum wage, or $ 15.87 per hour. Most workers, including experienced ones, are assigned part-time jobs and say it contributes to a workforce living in poverty. Since the inception of COVID-19, King Soopers workers say they face hazardous work environments with a lack of consistent PPE, low mask-wearing enforcement and limited sick leave, or free to serve as caretakers. In addition, the union claims that many workers report that they have experienced strife from customers, including verbal and physical harassment during the pandemic.
Andres Becerril, 30, is the front-end supervisor at Store # 10 on Mississippi Ave in Aurora.
“Our stores have been understaffed and undersupplied since the pandemic started. When you’re a manager – and you do not have the staff and supplies you need – your job is not only more difficult, but in our case it can be more dangerous.” said Becerril.
In addition, a recent study showed that a large number of Kroger employees are food insecure. Kroger is the parent company of King Soopers, City Market, Safeway. The independent report, “Hungry at the Table,” reported on the working and living conditions of 36,000 Kroger workers in four states, including King Soopers workers in Colorado. According to the report, food insecurity affects more than two-thirds of Kroger workers.
According to UCFW Local 7, King Sooper’s “Last, Best, and Last Offer” includes a “most-favored nation clause.” The clause allows King Soopers to give its workers the lowest salary of any Kroger franchise, instead of accepting a fixed salary during contract negotiations. From the union’s perspective, the offer is still unable to meet the basic needs of the workers. Cordova said the union will return to the table when King Soopers has an offer that “seriously considers workers’ needs.”
UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova explained the union’s decision to go ahead with a strike.
“King Soopers enjoys record profits while leaving his workers to struggle with low wages. Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they can not even afford to feed their own families. This is deeply unfair. “King Soopers has chosen to enrich its bottom line, instead of protecting workers who have risked their lives on the front line,” Cordova said in a press release last week.
Usually, union contract negotiations require some form of middle ground compromise. Thus, most unions are voting to strike as a last resort.
Strikes over alleged unfair work practices
While the union remains frustrated with all elements of the negotiations, the strike focuses in particular on the alleged unfair working practices. UFCW Local 7 cited unfair work practices and King Sooper’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith as the main driving force behind the orchestration of a strike.
Last week, UFCW Local 7 filed a lawsuit against King Soopers for violating the collective bargaining agreement and hiring temporary, non-union workers, who, the union claims, are draining benefits and harming job security for existing employees.
Union workers are striking against alleged unfair work practices regarding a safe working environment and job security for current employees.
“I have worked for King Soopers for 12 years and now I am a supervisor. I feel trapped: They pay me enough to stay, but not enough to live. My friends and I can pay rent, but we can not save up for the future. We’re doing well. We must hope that we do not get sick, hope that we do not get a parking ticket or a flat tiresaid Becerril.
According to Cordova and Becerril, King Sooper’s employees are essential workers who have spent the last two years in a constant state of trauma and insecurity, where most feel they had no choice but to sign up for work.
“My mother and I are both important workers; she is a nurse and encountered various pandemic challenges. For me – when working in a grocery store during a pandemic, [we learned] it was the only thing that made people feel normal for a long time. For several months, the grocery store was the only place one could go. When you are the only ‘social’ thing in town, everyone comes to you – both good and bad. People would get bored of missing items that gave them a sense of comfort, and took it beyond us. We lived it, we worked it. King Soopers never protected us during the pandemicsaid Becerril.
Essential Workers Strike in Denver Metro
Today, workers are on strike in nearly 80 stores. It’s quite traditional: Thousands of union workers stand outside their shops in winter weather with red and white streaks and a sense of hope. For union workers, over the past year and a half, many have felt exhausted and unprotected at work. Today, they are excited.
In Capitol Hill, known as Denver’s gayborhood, workers have gathered outside Store # 29 on Ninth Avenue. The store has a unique history. Also known as ‘Queen Soopers’, the modest grocery store was a decades-long social hub for LGBTQ + people, punks, drag queens and anyone who was considered “misfit” by the general public. The story gives the store added personality and character.
Capitol Hill King Soopers employees come from all walks of life and embrace the same level of camaraderie as their lively customer base. At sunrise, more than 30 workers stood outside the store, and more flocked in every 10 minutes. One handed out flyers on roller skates, a couple of others made sure the group got breakfast. There was palpable excitement: For what could be the first time, King Sooper’s workers feel empowered when they take matters into their own hands.
“The dangers [of working during a pandemic] are still real, still there. We asked security guards to protect us from aggressive customers and we never got them. But today, King Sooper sent security guards to stand in front of the front doors of shops on strike. I hope King Soopers sees our strike and thinks ‘maybe we should have worried about our workers instead of being afraid of them’, Becerril said.
As explained by Cordova, King Sooper’s workers are exhausted. In some ways, the strike may have been long overdue for stagnant wages, extreme working conditions created by the pandemic and no real end to dangerous working conditions in sight.
“Our prayer remains the same: Stop these unfair practices, and respect us, protect us and pay us what we deserve. UFCW Local 7 members will remain on strike until the company agrees to stop this unfair practice and come to the negotiating table in good faith. believe. During this strike, we are asking for support from our community. We are grateful for all the overwhelming support we have received and for the individuals, union partners, organizations that come to Colorado to support our efforts and struggle. We will continue to be relentless in the fight for our members, ”Cordova said.
King Soopers’ answer
King Soopers Union workers are following a hot streak of work strikes across the country. Last year, union workers from Kelloggs, QFC Grocery and several hospitals on the east coast went on strike for higher wages and a safe working environment amid failed contract negotiations.
According to King Soopers, the store offers the largest pay rise in the company’s history. They claim that the union is not negotiating in good faith. As of today, King Soopers stands by its final offer. King Soopers recently sued UFCW Local 7, claiming it offers the largest pay rise in the company’s history and that the union is not negotiating in good faith.
“At King Soopers, we want what’s right for our employees, and that’s more money in their paychecks while we continue to receive industry-leading healthcare,” said Joe Kelley, President of King Soopers / City Market.
In 2021, the Kroger store surplus rose by 8%, a jump to $ 132 billion nationwide. Rodger McMullen, CEO of Kroger, earned $ 22 million in salary in 2020, almost double his salary in 2018.
Stores on strike are currently working under limited capacity. Customers are free to shop if they wish. If residents of Colorado want to support union workers, UFCW Local asked 7 residents to find alternative stores to shop, such as Safeway, Sprouts, Target, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, or other non-union King Soopers stores.
Right now, UFCW Local 7 intends to strike for three weeks, ending on February 2nd. Be sure to bookmark this page to keep up with this exciting story – 303 Magazine will provide updates on this article as it evolves.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.