The union representing more than 8,000 King Soopers employees on strike across the metro area and the company appear headed back to the bargaining table.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 asked King Soopers negotiators to resume contract talks Friday. A spokeswoman for King Soopers, Colorado’s largest grocery store chain, said Thursday that the company is looking forward to returning to negotiations.
“We are pleased that after nearly a week the union has finally responded to our request to meet. We look forward to returning to the bargaining table to resume negotiations and find a deal that puts more money in our associates paychecks,” Jessica Trowbridge said in an email.
Kim Cordova, the union president, said the picket lines at stores from Boulder to Parker will remain up as the negotiations continue.
“We remain committed to honoring the near-unanimous vote by Local 7 members to strike against the company for unfair labor practices,” Cordova said in a statement. “And we will continue until the company proves it will treat essential workers with the dignity they deserve.”
During a rally Thursday, a day after employees walked off the job, Cordova said the union asked that King Soopers leaders from Colorado be at the table to continue talks. She said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, only briefly attended bargaining sessions, which broke off the first week in January.
Out-of-state lawyers and corporate executives for Cincinnati-based Kroger, which owns King Soopers and City Market, are the ones who’ve been negotiating, Cordova told the crowd of about 200 union members and supporters.
“If we don’t have people from Colorado, we think it’s going to be unproductive to continue to talk to somebody who cares nothing about you, about Colorado values. They don’t have to look at you ever again,” Cordova.
The company announced Thursday that it is delaying the reopening of a King Soopers store in Boulder where 10 people were killed in a mass shooting March 22. The store was set to reopen Jan. 20, but Kelley said it would be a milestone and that “it must be free of distractions,” referring to the strike.
King Soopers has criticized the union for calling a strike after the company made an offer that included $148 million for wage increases, bonuses and investments in health care. The company made a revised proposal on Tuesday of $170 million. The UFCW Local 7 bargaining committee, which Cordova said is led by union members, rejected the original proposal on Jan. 5 and negotiations stopped. Tuesday’s offer was also rejected.
Last week, union members in Boulder, the Denver area, Parker and Colorado Springs overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike on claims of unfair labor practices. The stores’ contracts expired Saturday, Jan. 8. Colorado Springs workers didn’t walk off the job because the meat workers’ contact hasn’t ended yet.
Cordova said the union initially called for a three-week strike because its contracts with King Soopers and City Market expire at different times. Other stores across the state could eventually join the labor action, she said.
Other contracts run out later in January and in February.
Kelley has said the union should allow members to vote on the company’s latest proposal. He said in an interview Tuesday that “a tremendous amount of our associates” were asking the union for a vote on the company’s offer.
Cordova said Thursday the company finally provided some of the data on wages, pensions and other items .
“But they want us to bargain off of their proposal. That’s not how negotiations work,” Cordova said.
King Soopers hasn’t responded to the union’s comprehensive proposal, she added.
The union’s proposition includes starting pay of $18.56 an hour, compared to the company’s proposal of $16 an hour.
Cordova said King Soopers’ offer is full of concessions the company is seeking from employees. Among those, she said, are limits on the amount of sick leave; restrictions on overtime; and allowing the company to lower wages during the term of the contract.
The union said it wants a faster pathway for part-time employees who want full-time work. Cordova said a majority of King Soopers employees are part-time and many struggle to pay rent and buy food at a time when Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, has spent more than $1 billion to buy back stock and has reported record profits.
“There’s a real mandate for change. There are systemic problems with what’s going on with Kroger, not just here but around the country,” Cordova said.
Contracts with the company are running out in Southern California, New Mexico and the Seattle area, she added.
“All of the issues are the same,” Cordova said. “You have a big company who has treated essential workers as disposable workers.”