Hooks face strike threat from thousands of grocery workers in Colorado

Thousands of workers at Kroger subsidiaries King Soopers and City Market are expected to go on strike this week in Colorado unless the union and the company move forward with a new collective bargaining agreement.

The threat of layoffs is another sign of retail and food workers demanding more from their employers while continuing to keep an eye on pandemic conditions and staff shortages. The union representing the workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, said the strike would involve more than 8,000 workers in 78 shops around the state.

The union set a deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m.

“Ultimately, all we want is a viable salary, affordable health care and a safe work environment,” Carol McMillian, a King Soopers bakery manager, said at a news conference Monday.

“We’ve been loyal to you,” McMillian said as she spoke to the company. “It’s time for you to be loyal to us.”

The union has filed charges against the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board and accuses Kroger of negotiating in bad faith and refusing to provide data during the negotiations – claiming the company rejects. These accusations would serve as the legal basis for the workers’ strike and offer them some job protection they might not have if they strictly went beyond pay.

The company has countered its own allegations of unfair work practices, claiming that the union has been negotiating in bad faith and refusing to negotiate in recent days. “Local 7 has not given any indication as to when they will re-enter the negotiation process,” the company said in a statement.

Kroger said it made a “last, best and final offer” to the union on Tuesday and suggested a larger contribution to the employees’ health fund.

“The companies thrived, but our workers did not thrive. Do you know what our workers got? COVID. The attack. Beat up. Spit on. Smacked. Overworked. “

– Kim Cordova, President, UFCW Local 7

Kim Cordova, president of UFCW 7, said Monday that workers rejected the company’s latest offer last week, prompting Kroger to recommend the two sides seek out a federal mediator before workers go on strike. Cordova said the union is not interested in that.

“We believe King Soopers should meet its workers,” she said.

The workers’ latest contract expired on January 8. The union held a strike approval vote prior to its expiration, and workers voted overwhelmingly for a strike if they did not get a satisfactory agreement.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, which includes Fred Meyer, Ralphs and other regional grocery chains, said its latest offer included raising the starting salary to $ 16 an hour, leading to wage increases of up to $ 4.50 for some in the first year of the contract. A checker with five years of experience would see an immediate increase of $ 1, from $ 19.51 to $ 20.51, followed by 80-cent increases in the following two years, according to a limited overview of the company’s proposal.

The offer also included bonuses of $ 2,000 for most workers and $ 4,000 for those with a decade or more in service if the contract is ratified.

But Cordova noted that the new floor at $ 16 an hour would only be pennies over minimum wage in the city in Denver, where several of the King Soopers stores are located.

“It’s 13 cents above the minimum wage while posting for shed workers at $ 18 an hour,” she said.

In fact, an Associated Press photo from a store in Denver last week shows the $ 18-per-share offer. hour for substitutes:

A sign warning of the need for temps stands next to the entrance to a King Soopers grocery store on January 6, 2022 in southeast Denver.  The advertised $ 18 per hour for temps is $ 2 higher than the pay floor offered in contract negotiations.
A sign warning of the need for temps stands next to the entrance to a King Soopers grocery store on January 6, 2022 in southeast Denver. The advertised $ 18 per hour for temps is $ 2 higher than the pay floor offered in contract negotiations.

Associated Press Photo / David ZalbowskI

Hooks enjoyed the soaring sales during the pandemic, including one record year in 2020, and Cordova skinned the company for not sharing more of its profits with the front-line workforce facing COVID-19 infections and playing masked police with angry shoppers.

“The companies thrived, but our workers did not thrive,” she said. “Do you know what our workers got? COVID. The attack. Break through. Spit on. Slapped. Overworked. And the company? They did it great. They did it absolutely great when they sat behind their desk and did their work at Zoom.”

The mention of the slap appears to be a reference to an actual incident at a King Soopers in Aurora, Colorado, in February last year. Video footage captured an angry and unmasked female shopper slaps a worker after repeatedly being asked to wear a mask in the store.

A Boulder King Soopers was the site of a mass shooting in March 2021, in which an armed man killed 10 people, including three store employees and an Instacart shopper.

McMillian noted that Kroger offered its employees a $ 2-hour risk-payment bonus at the end of March 2020, but ended it just a month and a half later, despite numerous coronavirus and death cases. only worsened. (The company also paid out a couple of one-time bonuses, which came to $ 400 and $ 300 for full-time employees.)

“I remember back when the pandemic started. We were heroes back then. We got hero pay for six weeks,” she said. “After the end of the six weeks, guess who got bonuses? King Soopers’ CEO. So much for the workers. ”

Andres Becerril, an office manager at a King Soopers in Aurora, said the exhausting working conditions from earlier in the pandemic have not disappeared. He said they do not have enough workers on hand to take care of basic tasks right away, such as cleaning up waste, and customers lose their temper and abuse employees.

“We’re understaffed right now, and when you’re understaffed, you do not have the coverage you need to keep your store safe,” he said. “There are customers who are angry because the departments are closed and they are taking it out on us.”

Becerril said he has serious security issues and nothing seems to change in his store unless someone gets hurt.

“I do not think that is right. And unless they change it, I will go out and mark on Wednesday at 5,” he said.

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