Kroger’s King Soopers workers strike at nearly 80 stores as talks stall

More than 8,000 workers in nearly 80 King Soopers stores began a pay-improvement strike on Wednesday as negotiations stalled, but stores remained open as the Kroger-owned Colorado chain hired temporary employees and promoted online orders.

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The strike began at 7:00 a.m. ET and will last for three weeks, local UFCW 7 said. The striking workers work at King Soopers stores in the Denver metropolitan area, the cities of Boulder, Parker and Broomfield in Colorado and others.

The strike is the latest of its kind in the United States, following similar demonstrations at Kellogg’s and Deere & Co’s grain mills, where rising Omicron injuries and inflation prompted workers to demand better working conditions and higher wages.

Workers gather outside a Kroger King Soopers store to protest their strike in Denver, Colorado, US, January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Mohat (Reuters/Kevin Mohat/Reuters Photo)

At King Soopers, workers sought a wage increase of at least $6 an hour for everyone. The company’s “last, best and last bid” on Tuesday proposed increases of up to $4.50 an hour based on job classification and duration.

The proposal, which came after the union rejected two previous offers, calls for an investment of $170 million in wages over the next three years, more health care benefits and a starting salary of $16 an hour.

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This was less than the $18 an hour that King Soopers advertised for redundant workers at various locations including Denver, Evergreen, Golden and Littleton.

Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, said the latest offer was “worse than previous shows in many ways,” noting that the new base salary was still above Denver’s minimum wage and demanded more concessions.

To limit the impact of the strike, Krueger said the grocery chain has brought in workers from across the country and hired temporary staff.

Union members hold signs in front of a King Soopers store in Kroger during a protest as workers go on strike in Denver, Colorado, US, January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Mohat (Reuters/Kevin Mohat/Reuters Photo)

It also encouraged customers to shop online by lowering delivery charges to $1 for orders over $35 for a limited time, while opening alternative “off-site” locations such as a parking lot in Lakewood, Colorado.

politicians support attack

The strike had the support of politicians, including US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Colorado Senator Chris Kolker and Jesse Danielson, according to their comments on social media.

“Huge grocery chains like Kroger have made billions by raising consumer prices. They use those profits to reward CEOs rather than raise wages so workers can make ends meet. I stand with Kroger workers in their fight for a fair contract,” Warren tweeted.

A Kroger spokesperson said wages have grown before and during the pandemic, as the grocer has raised his average hourly wage to $16.68 from $13.66 since 2017.

While many customers also called for a boycott of Kroger, many other customers expressed concern that higher wages could drive up product prices.

“I’ve been a customer of King Soopers since 1962,” Denver-based Mark Simmons said. “I joined the striking union workers by not shopping there until they agreed to a new contract that satisfied workers.”

Ramifications

King Soopers operates more than 110 stores and is Colorado’s #1 grocer in terms of market share, but parent company Kroger doesn’t disclose its sales.

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K Kroger Company 49.48 +2.34 +4.96%

According to investment research firm CFRA, King Soopers/City Market stores in Colorado accounted for about 5% of Kroger’s $132.5 billion in annual sales.

Aaron Sundaram, an analyst at CFRA, said the strike would affect product availability and market share as Walmart and Albertsons Cos are the biggest competitors in Colorado.

“We have already seen more out-of-stocks across supermarkets due to worker absenteeism and supply chain constraints caused by the Omicron variant,” he said.

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“The strike will make it more difficult for Kroger to replenish the stock on the shelves.”

(Reporting by Siddharth Kaval and Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni, Devika Siamnath and Arun Koyor)

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