Workers at the King Soopers at 38th Avenue and Sheridan Blvd., 17th and Sheridan, and approximately 60 other locations across the front range, voted to go on strike starting this morning, Jan. 12. King Soopers workers and representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 7 say that the grocery chain is engaging in unfair labor practices, bargaining in bad faith, and not putting the health, safety, and livelihood of employees before corporate profits.
“King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages,” said Kim Cordova, President of UFCW Local 7. “Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families. This is grossly unfair. King Soopers has chosen to enrich its bottom line, instead of protecting workers who have risked their lives on the front lines.”
In an interview with The Denver North Star, Cordova said that some workers are still making $12.56/hour, Colorado’s new minimum wage (The two stores on Sheridan are located in Jefferson County, not Denver, so are not subject to Denver’s new $15.87 minimum wage). Cordova said the store refuses to offer full-time positions to many employees despite staffing shortages and employees wanting more hours, because full-time employees are entitled to health care after only 90 days, while part-time employees must wait an entire year. Full-time employees also receive pay raises faster. Instead of allowing staff to work full time, Cordova says, the store attempts to hire more part-time employees who quit after only a short time due to the low pay and poor benefits, creating a cycle of low wages.
In the Denver metro’s hot housing market, many workers can’t afford rent, with some grocery store workers sleeping in their cars in the parking lot, Cordova said.
A spokesperson for King Soopers paints a different picture of employee compensation though, telling The Denver North Star that 50% of employees earn over $20/hour and 75% make at least $18, with an average wage of $18.29/hr. They have proposed a contract that would start all employees at $16/hour. King Soopers has referred to the decision to strike as “reckless” and “disruptive” in public statements.
Cordova noted that King Soopers is hiring temporary workers at $18/hour, higher than some employees are earning, which to her shows the company could be paying those wages regularly if they choose. She also noted the record profits Kroger, King Soopers’ parent company, earned last year. Grocery store sales skyrocketed as restaurants were closed or at limited capacity and many stores are also earning additional income as vaccine sites.
Another concern of grocery store workers is a lack of enforcement of safety guidelines, both COVID-19 related and not. Denver and Jefferson County both have mask mandates, but workers say stores aren’t enforcing them, causing more employees to catch COVID, which puts employees and shoppers at risk. Additionally, she said there are still many safety issues in stores’ warehouses and back areas that are not being addressed.
The strike began at 5 a.m. on Jan. 12 and is initially planned through Feb. 2, though it could end early, especially in the metro area’s current workforce shortage where temporary workers are scarce. Cordova noted a similar strike on the West Coast only lasted 14 hours when the stores couldn’t operate without striking union workers. 98% of Denver retail employees and 97% of meat department workers voted to approve the strike. In neighboring communities like Broomfield, the vote was
unanimous in support.