- More than 8,700 workers at Kroger's King Soopers and City Market supermarkets in Colorado went on strike Wednesday morning after the union representing them turned down what the grocer called a "last, best and final" contract offer.
- The strike, set to continue through Feb. 2, follows the grocer's announcement on Monday that it had filed unfair labor practice charges against the union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, accusing the organization of "refusing to bargain in good faith."
- Kroger, which called the union's decision to strike "reckless and self-serving," said its stores would remain open despite the walkout. "Creating more disruption for our associates, their families, and Coloradans rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution is irresponsible and undemocratic," Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, said in a statement.
The strike escalates a bitter dispute between UFCW Local 7 and the grocer that has seen both sides accuse the other of refusing to work cooperatively toward a deal.
During a press conference streamed on the union's Facebook page on Monday, UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said King Soopers has repeatedly rebuffed its demands for better pay and safer working conditions.
Kroger has complicated matters by refusing to assign local representatives to handle negotiations aside from a human resources manager, Cordova added.
UFCW Local 7 does not want a federal mediator to help resolve its dispute with Kroger, Cordova said. The union also has complained to the National Labor Relations Board that Kroger has not provided information it needs to evaluate contract offers it has made, she said.
In addition, the grocer has hired people to work in its stores through staffing agencies, prompting the union to file a lawsuit in federal court, said Cordova, adding that the strike involves workers at 78 stores.
Cordova said the grocer has "systematically chosen to cut hours … and pay workers low minimum wage at part-time hours," which she said has led grocery workers to have second thoughts about working in supermarkets.
"The great resignation is real. Workers are rethinking their relationship with employers, and that's what's happening right now with King Soopers," Cordova said, alluding to the labor shortage grocers are contending with.
For its part, Kroger said on Tuesday its offer to the union, which it called "monumental," represents "the most significant wage investment in company history" and noted that it is striving to balance raises for workers with its effort to hold food prices down.
On Wednesday, Kroger released an analysis it asked an outside firm to conduct that it said concluded the company's pay for hourly associates in California, Colorado, Oregon and the state of Washington is above what other retail workers receive.
The deal Kroger laid on the table on Tuesday would give workers raises of up to $4.50 per hour in the first year, raise the minimum wage for King Sooper workers to $16 per hour and provide a ratification bonus of $2,000 for associates with less than 10 years of service and twice that amount for workers who have been with the company for a decade or longer, according to the company. With healthcare benefits taken into account, a full-time checker at the chain, which has more than 22,000 associates, would earn more than $47,000 per year under the proposal, Kroger said.
The acrimony on display between Kroger and labor organizers in Colorado continues the rocky relationship between the grocer and the UFCW, which took a turn in mid-2020, when the grocer sparked outrage with its decision to end the hazard pay it had been distributing to workers since the start of the pandemic. Other grocers also invited criticism when they ended their "hero pay" pay programs.
But in a sign of how fast relations between grocers and labor representatives can shift course, workers at Kroger's Fred Meyer and QFC banners in Oregon represented by UFCW Local 555 went on strike in December after saying the grocer had offered unacceptable contract terms, then quickly returned to work when the retailer agreed to what the union called "the best contract in UFCW 555 history."