Thousands of unionized workers at Kroger subsidiaries in Colorado just went on strike

More than 8,000 workers at King Soopers and City Markets have taken to the picket lines over wages, health and retirement benefits, and workplace safety.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Things sure look rocky in Colorado. More than 8,000 unionized workers across 77 locations of Kroger subsidiaries King Soopers and City Market in the Denver metro area went on strike this morning after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract before the existing one expired on January 8.

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, the union representing the workers, initiated the strike at 5am MT and plan to continue for three weeks, until February 2.

  • Union President Kim Cordova called the strike “the largest labor dispute involving grocery workers [in Colorado] since 1996,” at a press conference Monday.

The union said it’s seeking higher wages, better health benefits, and a safer work environment (like many workers across the industry), criticizing a policy change that ended paid Covid leave for unvaccinated employees and Covid-related financial support for all workers.

  • A report released yesterday by the Economic Roundtable group, commissioned by the UFCW, found that two-thirds of Kroger workers struggle to afford food, while 14% are currently homeless, or were in the last year.

How did we get here? King Soopers/City Market on January 6 proposed a $148 million investment in new wages and signing bonuses to the union. This included $16/hour starting pay ($0.13 above the minimum wage in Denver, where many stores are located, Cordova noted to Huffpost) with increases of up to $4.50/hour in the first year, plus signing bonuses of $2,000–$4,000.

The following day, UFCW Local 7 announced its intention to strike, with Cordova saying in a statement that King Soopers/City Market “refuses to listen” to its requests and “has chosen to protect its bottom line.”

The company then made a “last, best, and final offer” on Tuesday, contingent on ceasing strike plans and “swift ratification,” upping its proposed investment in wages and bonuses to $170 million—the “largest wage and benefit investment in King Soopers/City Market history,” it claimed—which the union has rejected.

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In a statement emailed to Retail Brew, Cordova said the union considered the latest offer “worse” than previous ones, and the company has “failed to respond to critical requests and data” around wage, health, and safety concerns.

“Clearly, King Soopers/City Market will not voluntarily meet the needs of our workers, despite our repeated pleas for the company to listen to the voices of our members,” she said. “We strike because it has become clear this is the only way to get what is fair, just, and equitable for the grocery workers who have risked their lives every day just by showing up to work during the pandemic.”

  • King Soopers/City Market said the union’s decision to strike was “disappointing” in a statement today and that Cordova “has been determined from the onset of negotiations to take you out on strike to serve her own self-interests.” (The company did not respond to our request for comment.)

During the negotiating process, the union claims that King Soopers/City Market hired outside workers to perform bargaining unit work at a higher pay rate, blocked union activity, and tried to bargain with individual workers rather than the union, which the company has denied. The union filed a lawsuit citing breach of contract on December 29.

  • King Soopers/City Market countered with its own lawsuit on Monday, alleging that the union “refused to engage in any meaningful discussions” on a new agreement.

What now? We’ll have to wait and see. But King Soopers’ division president, Joe Kelley, told CBS Denver the company is preparing for the strike by bringing in 300–400 workers from Kroger’s sister companies and hiring temp workers.

Zoom out: Kroger just faced a strike in December, when unionized workers at Fred Meyer and QFC locations picketed for one day before reaching a tentative agreement with their parent company. But so has the wider food sector, with workers at Kellogg, Frito-Lay, and Nabisco joining picket lines in recent months.

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