Teamsters refuse to cross picket lines as King Soopers strike continues. Both sides met for negotiations Sunday

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
King Soopers workers went on strike in Denver on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, including here on Sheridan Boulevard in Edgewater.

Update January 16. Day five of strike

In a show of support for King Soopers workers striking for better pay and working conditions, the Teamsters refused to cross King Soopers picket lines in Denver Sunday while making deliveries to the grocery chain. No immediate details were given as to how many deliveries or stores this would affect, or for how long.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued at the Denver Marriott over the weekend. Sunday was day five of the strike between King Soopers workers and Kroger, the parent company for King Soopers. Workers at 14 Denver-area stores walked off the job and began picketing last week.

In a video message, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 President Kim Cordova called Saturday's negotiations unproductive and accused Kroger representatives of being unprofessional. She claims new agreements offered by Kroger have eliminated worker bonuses included in earlier proposals.

"We have told the company that we're here. We agreed to come to negotiations. We expect them to sit down and to bargain in good faith," Cordova said.

Cordova says a sticking point in the negotiations is a provision that would make any deal struck with King Soopers workers contingent upon any later deal agreed to with Albertsons or Safeway workers, even if that deal is seen as less beneficial to workers.

King Soopers representatives did not respond to calls or emails at press time.

January 14. Day three of strike

King Soopers and the union representing more than 8,000 grocery workers in the Denver metro area will head back to the bargaining table Friday. Workers remain on strike, however, and store services are still feeling the labor crunch. 

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 suggested negotiators meet in Denver, where workers at 14 stores have walked off the job. In all, 78 King Soopers locations are currently on strike. A King Soopers spokeswoman said the company looks forward to resuming talks, which stalled earlier this month. The most recent contract expired Jan 8.   

“We are pleased that after nearly a week the union has finally responded to our request to meet,” a spokeswoman said in an email. “We look forward to returning to the bargaining table to resume negotiations and find a deal that puts more money in our associates' paychecks.”

The company has proposed a $170 million investment in wage increases, including a new minimum wage of $16 an hour. But union leadership argues that the offer contains unfair concessions, like allowing King Soopers to hire gig workers to fill some roles 

“The picket lines will remain up as the bargaining committee negotiates,” said Kim Cordova, UFCW Local 7’s president. “We remain committed to honoring the near-unanimous vote by Local 7 members to strike against the company for unfair labor practices. And we will continue until the company proves it will treat essential workers with the dignity they deserve.”

Worker concerns around pay, security led to strike

Negotiations started last fall. The company and union butted heads on a number of issues, ranging from pay to worker safety and security. 

Earlier this month, the union filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit against the company for allegedly hiring temporary workers at a higher rate of pay. Workers held a strike vote and walked off the job Wednesday.  

The strike has affected dozens of stores from Boulder to Parker. Some pharmacies have announced reduced hours. The company has also launched alternative grocery pickup spots to work around picketers. 

On Thursday, workers rallied outside of the Leetsdale King Soopers in Glendale alongside local elected officials. They outlined several demands for their new contract, including a new starting pay higher than $18 an hour.   

“All we are asking for is fair pay, affordable healthcare and a safe workplace,” said Carol McMillian, a bakery manager from Aurora. “Come on King Soopers!” 

Workers say they've seen little gains as Kroger's profits rose last year

Andres Becerril, a front end supervisor, grew emotional as he talked about his decision to strike against the company, where he has worked for 12 years.

“This company made a lot of money during the pandemic. They went up five spots on the Fortune 500 list. If they gave us a little money, what’s wrong with only going up four spots?” Becerril said. “It’s not going to hurt anyone to take care of your workers.” 

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
King Soopers employees picket outside of the store at Sheridan Boulevard and Florida Avenue in Denver's Mar Lee neighborhood. Jan. 12, 2022.

Kroger, King Soopers’ parent company, actually rose six spots on the Fortune 500 list last year, moving from 23rd to 17th. According to Fortune, the company’s profits rose to nearly $2.6 billion, a 55 percent jump from 2020 to 2021.

Dave Young, Colorado’s state treasurer, also addressed the crowd of workers in Glendale. He pulled out his King Soopers card as he pledged not to shop at the stores until a new contract is reached. 

“This card is well worn, but it’s staying in my wallet,” Young said. “I’m not going into King’s until this is a fair contract.”

Cordova, the union’s president, demanded that King Soopers’ president, Joe Kelley, participate in bargaining going forward. One complaint from the union has been that out-of-state negotiators from Kroger have been leading talks on the company’s side. 

“We have been left to bargain with out-of-state attorneys and executives who do not have the best interests of our essential workers and the Colorado community at heart,” Cordova said. “In order to have a productive discussion, we have requested the attendance of Joe Kelley, who has yet to make time in his schedule for one of these meetings for longer than nine minutes.”

Kelley did, however, stop at several picket lines this week to speak with workers about their grievances.

King Soopers also announced it would delay the long-planned reopening of its Table Mesa Drive location in Boulder due to the labor dispute. The store was scheduled to open Jan. 20. A new reopening date has not been set.

Alejandro A. Alonso Galva and Kevin J. Beaty contributed to this report.