King Soopers deli worker Collin Banhagel holds a sign Wednesday during the UFCW Local 7 strike at the King Soopers on 30th Avenue and Arapahoe Avenue  in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
King Soopers deli worker Collin Banhagel holds a sign Wednesday during the UFCW Local 7 strike at the King Soopers on 30th Avenue and Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Unionized King Soopers workers in Boulder County joined compatriots across the Denver region in a strike Wednesday in hopes of prying pay- and benefits-related concessions out of the Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) grocery chain.

Employees at the King Soopers at 30th Avenue and Arapahoe Avenue hold signs Wednesday during the UFCW Local 7 strike in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The worker action, organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, began at 5 a.m. Wednesday and could last for three weeks.

In the Boulder Valley, employees at Boulder, Broomfield, Louisville and Westminster are striking. At other King Soopers locations in the region and in Northern Colorado, employment contracts have yet to expire, but an expansion of the strike is possible in the coming weeks.

“We’re fighting for better everything,” Gigi Jones, a King Soopers front-end supervisor and bookkeeper who’s been with the company and union since 2013, told BizWest. The union is rallying against “unfair labor practices, (and for) better safety and pay.”

King Soopers and UFCW have been attempting to hammer out a new contract for weeks, but so far Local 7’s demands for increased pay, better benefits, the elimination of a two-tiered salary system that punishes newly hired workers, job outsourcing to non-union workers and stronger health and safety protections in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been met, the union said.

King Soopers said on Tuesday that it had made what it calls it’s “last, best and final offer” to the union, which includes the “investment of $170 million over the next three years (that) includes wage investments plus ratification bonuses for all associates.”

King Soopers deli worker Roman Catalan, left, and cheese worker Shane Misra hold signs Wednesday and wave a passing vehicles during the UFCW Local 7 strike. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The company said it has “also proposed an additional investment in health care benefits that would result in zero impact to associates current health care premiums based upon the current projections — premiums that have not increased in 12 years if this agreement is ratified. This offer not only puts more money in associates’ pockets but, if accepted, promises to bring stability to our associates and Coloradans who have endured enough uncertainty and disruption.”

Each side has accused the other of dirty dealing at the negotiating table. In fact, the union sued the grocer in late December, alleging that King Soopers engaged in unfair labor practices by bringing on third-party, non-union workers to perform work ceded to the union as part of its collective bargaining agreement.

“The company’s ‘last, best, and final’ offer, in many ways, is worse than its previous offers. King Soopers, despite providing certain information at approximately 5:30 p.m. last night, has failed to respond to critical requests and data concerning the wage, health, and safety matters that are central to these negotiations,” UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova said in a statement Tuesday. “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. 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.”

For its part, King Soopers is also levying unfair labor practice allegations against the union, “for its bad faith bargaining and tactics as well as pursuing other legal action for unlawful conduct,” the company said.

“Local 7 is putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money in our associates’ pockets,” King Soopers president Joe Kelley said in a statement. “It’s time for Kim Cordova to put our associates, her members, first instead of denying them the opportunity to vote on this unprecedented investment. Creating more disruption for our associates, their families, and Coloradans rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution is irresponsible and undemocratic.”

King Soopers says it plans to remain open during the strike and signage inside the store advertises for temporary replacement gigs that pay as much as $18 an hour.

In the meantime, local workers say they just want to get back to work at a job with pay and benefits that meet their livability needs.

“I will keep fighting for as long as I possibly can,” Jones said. “I have three jobs, which sucks. I’d like to have just one. I love King Soopers and I love this job. But I’m really mad.”

This article was first published by BizWest, an independent news organization, and is published under a license agreement. © 2022 BizWest Media LLC.