King Soopers, City Market Colorado workers threaten to strike as contract deadline approaches

CPR News
The King Soopers at Krameria and 14th in Denver.

One of Colorado’s largest unions inched closer to a strike Wednesday after leadership turned down the latest contract proposal from Kroger, the parent company of King Soopers and City Market grocery stores. 

The rejection was the latest hiccup in an ongoing negotiation between the supermarket chain and nearly 17,000 cashiers, shelf stockers and other staff members who want better pay and benefits after working through the pandemic. About 58 percent of King Soopers employees in Colorado are covered by the union’s current contract, which expires Jan 8. 

Union leaders also filed a lawsuit against the company in U.S. District Court this week, claiming Kroger violated its current labor contract by hiring temporary workers. A strike vote has been scheduled in response as contract negotiations continue. 

“We are looking at setting up strike vote meetings as soon as possible, like in the next few days,” said Kim Cordova, president of United Commercial Food Workers Union Local 7 chapter. “I would say we’re still far, far apart from each other.” 

The company declined to comment on the litigation, but said it would continue bargaining with union leadership ahead of next month’s contract deadline.

King Soopers’ offer

Contracts aren’t public during negotiations, but King Soopers outlined some details of its latest proposal in a written statement. 

The company says its offer included pay raises and new investments in health care and pension plans. Under that version of the contract, workers would get an annual 50-cent hourly wage raise over the next four years.

The total package amounts to a $145 million investment in employees, according to King Soopers.

“We will continue to do everything we can to balance investments in wages and overall well-being while keeping food affordable for our customers,” said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market. “We remain committed to our people and our Colorado community.” 

Many current workers are burnt out and frustrated after almost two years of the pandemic, and they feel that work was not rewarded in the latest proposal, according to Cordova. Union leaders say it contained a host of unfair concessions, such as a two-tier wage system that would mean less pay for workers in smaller cities. 

“Groceries have made massive profits during the pandemic,” Cordova said. “And while the CEOs and executives are getting rich off of the work that the frontline worker does, our members are suffering.” 

Union workers almost went on strike two years ago. Members ultimately decided against the move after the company offered higher raises and better retirement benefits.

Negotiations for the latest contract started earlier this month and quickly entered rough waters. The company declined to comment on the litigation, but called the move “disappointing” in a statement. 

Workers want better security and PPE due to ongoing pandemic

On top of higher pay, the union wants to see better safety and security measures at stores, such as armed security and more personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies distributed to staff, Cordova said. They are also seeking more affordable health care. 

“We hope that the community stands with their grocery workers,” Cordova said. “We were there for them during the pandemic. We hope that they’re here for us.” 

Kroger operates about 150 King Soopers and City Market stores in the state. Last year, the company ranked 23rd on Fortune’s top 500 list, with revenues topping $122 billion.

Dozens of workers attended negotiations at the Hyatt Regency conference center in Aurora on Wednesday. Janetta Bridgewaters, a night crew foreman, picked up several pro-union signs and buttons from a table outside the bargaining room. 

The company’s latest offer made her furious, she said. Bridgewaters has worked jobs at various King Soopers stores in the metro area for almost 30 years, and said she’s barely able to make a living and prepare for retirement.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Bridgewaters said. “I need to make more than McDonald’s after 29 years.” 

She’s planning to attend the remaining bargaining sessions next week. She’ll strike if her coworkers vote in favor, she said. 

“I’m not crossing the picket line,” she said. “I deserve more than 50 cents.” 

A strike vote meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 2 and 3.

This story has been updated with additional information from King Soopers.