Thousands of King Soopers workers across metro Denver went on strike starting in mid-January as the local grocery store union pushes for better pay and opposes what it says are unfair labor practices.
The strike has impacted 77 stores, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, the union’s Colorado branch. The strike includes some King Soopers stores in west and east Centennial.
“I wish it didn’t have to come to this,” said one picketer in Centennial, who said he’s worked for King Soopers for 10 years. He said he cares deeply about his coworkers and the customers that come into his store every day.
The union told the Centennial Citizen in a statement that it didn’t want workers quoted by name.
UPDATE: Strike ends as tentative deal reached
The picketer juggles work and college classes while living with his parents, and he said despite how long he’s worked for King Soopers, it’s difficult to make his paycheck work with the cost of apartments in the area.
To live in “my own place on my own, I wouldn’t be able to support myself,” he said.
In trying to reach a deal with the union, King Soopers has offered to boost hourly pay for a full-time checker with five years of experience by $1.50 more this year to $21.01 an hour, The Colorado Sun reported. King Soopers has proposed to start pay at $16, according to the union.
The current starting pay in Colorado King Soopers locations is as low as $12.56 outside of the City of Denver, which has a higher minimum wage, according to the union. Denver’s minimum wage is $15.87.
“The company’s current proposal on wages is meaningless because language they have inserted would allow them to reduce wages below levels provided for in the agreement if they wanted to do so,” the union said in a statement to the Centennial Citizen.
The union’s most recent proposal was that workers be paid between $18.56 and $25.51 per hour, depending on classification and years of service, the union said in the Jan. 14 statement.
How financially secure a King Soopers worker can be comes down to more than just the pay rate. Part-time King Soopers workers often can’t get second jobs due to the unpredictability of King Soopers’ schedules, the union said.
Part-time workers can work anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week or more, while full-time workers are guaranteed 40 hours per week, the union added.
Many King Soopers workers are on the margins of financial stability, according to a report on Kroger workers cited by The Colorado Sun. Kroger owns King Soopers.
For the report by the nonprofit research firm Economic Roundtable in Los Angeles, researchers surveyed 10,287 employees in Colorado, Southern California and the Puget Sound region of Washington and found that 70% worked part time, the Sun reported.
Fourteen percent of Kroger workers are homeless now or have been homeless during the past year, according to the report dated this January.
One of the report’s authors, who acknowledged the report, “Hungry at The Table,” was funded by Colorado’s Local 7 and other Kroger unions in California and Oregon, said the unions had no influence on the findings, the Sun reported.
Other items at issue for the union include:
• The union is pushing for a “comprehensive proposal regarding COVID-19,” which includes hazard pay and safety measures “designed to make stores safer for both workers and customers,” the union said. “Hazard pay” means additional pay for performing hazardous duty, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
• King Soopers is proposing to be able to hire “gig” workers, according to the union. “The hiring of these workers would affect seniority in scheduling, ability to maximize hours and, because of the way health care plan funding works, would represent a serious risk to health care for all workers,” the union argued.
• The union alleges that King Soopers broke its current contract with the union by hiring temporary workers to fill store vacancies, an issue that is part of “separate grievances and a lawsuit,” the union said. (“Gig” and “temporary” mean different things in this context, the union said.)
On a company website, King Soopers said its offer “reaffirms our commitment to our associates and is our largest wage and benefit investment in King Soopers/City Market history.”
“King Soopers/City Market remains committed to the negotiation process and to settling an agreement that is good for our associates while keeping groceries affordable,” The Kroger Co. said in a Jan. 10 statement.