King Soopers workers ratify 3-year contract after striking across Denver metro

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
King Soopers workers went on strike Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022.

Updated at 1:30 p.m.

King Soopers workers approved a new contract Monday night that includes wage increases, better health care and more stringent safety protocols at 78 stores around the Denver metro, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. 

Under the agreement, which came together after months of negotiations and a 10-day strike, some workers will get raises up to $5.99 an hour, the union said. It protects pension benefits and requires the company to pay a higher share of workers’ healthcare costs. Union members voted on the contract in-person Monday night.

A copy of the contract was not shared publicly by the union or King Soopers. In a statement, the company’s president said it looked forward to moving forward from the labor dispute, which led many longtime customers to boycott the store.

“Our goal since day one has been to put more money in our associates’ paychecks and we are thrilled that our associates in the Denver metro bargaining area have voted yes on this offer,” said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market. 

The contract represents the most significant wage increase ever secured by a UFCW local chapter for grocery workers, said Kim Cordova, the chapter’s president. Besides compensation, it brings about a new set of in-store security policies, such as tougher enforcement of local mask mandates and a new self-defense clause that gives workers more protection in conflicts with unruly customers (an issue that’s been on the rise, according to Cordova).

“There are many gains here,” Cordova said. “We are excited that our members voted overwhelmingly to ratify this industry-leading contract that will ensure King Soopers will respect and protect essential workers as well as pay them fairly,” Cordova said. 

The workers’ previous contract expired Jan. 8. 

Previous coverage of the King Soopers strike:

Negotiations for the new contract, which covers roughly 8,000 workers, started last fall. The company and union butted heads on a number of issues, ranging from pay to security and safety during the pandemic. 

Earlier this month, the union filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit against Kroger, King Soopers’ parent company, for allegedly hiring temporary workers at a higher wage to fill vacancies. The union held a strike vote and workers walked off the job Jan. 12.

The lawsuit was settled alongside the ratification. King Soopers must now fire all temporary non-union workers by next month, according to Cordova. King Soopers also agreed to promote more than 500 part-time employees to full-time positions by the end of this year.

The company publicly criticized the union’s decision to strike, calling it “reckless” and disruptive. Prior to the current deal, its most recent contract proposal included a $170 million investment in raises and ratification bonuses – the largest in company history. 

On Friday, after days of closed-door negotiations, the two sides announced they had reached a tentative three-year deal. The announcement immediately ended the strike, and workers began returning to their regular jobs later that day. 

The strike was one of the largest labor actions in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, and it marked the first time grocery workers have gone on strike in the state since the late 90’s. 

The union didn’t get everything it wanted. The company wouldn’t budge on its opposition to a union-proposed rule that would allow for workers to receive tips, Cordova said.

Andres Becerril, a union member and front end supervisor in Aurora, spoke during a public town hall hosted by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday. He said his job had changed from someone “just selling milk and eggs” to being a peacekeeper during the pandemic, and he felt it was time to get compensated more for it.

“I’m glad we went on strike. We were all in agreement that it was time to change things,” Becerril said. “So it was time to walk out.”

King Soopers workers outside of the Denver metro area never walked off the job. UFCW bargaining units at King Soopers stores in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Grand Junction and Northern Colorado are expected to vote on a new 3-year contract over the next week.