DENVER — Thousands of King Soopers grocery store employees across Colorado are expected to walk out on the job in a matter of hours. The strike comes on the heels of failed negotiations between King Soopers and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7.
On Monday, the union representing employees at the Kroger-owned chain held a press conference, saying they want increased wages, better healthcare options and more tools for on-the-job safety. Meanwhile, Colorado's largest grocery chain maintained they've met those needs.
"Workers are rethinking their relationship with employers, and that's what's happening right now with King Soopers," said Kim Cordova, the president of UFCW Local 7.
During the press briefing, three long-term King Soopers employees took to the podium and shared their grievances with the company.
"We have members that live in their cars because they can't afford an apartment," said Carol McMillian, a King Soopers bakery manager. "There are customers that are irate because departments are closed, but they take it out on us instead, [and] you know, the back rooms can't get filled properly — they're a mess," said Andres Becerril, a head clerk. "Things don't change unless people get hurt with King Soopers."
The claims made by employees and the union came just days before a planned strike set to begin at 5 a.m. on Wednesday. More than 8,700 workers from King Soopers stores in Denver, Parker, Boulder and Broomfield will be participating.
"When you work for the largest chain in the state of Colorado and the largest chain — their parent company, Kroger — in the United States, you shouldn't have to struggle," Cordova said Monday.
The grocery chain has denied all of the claims made by employees and the union. King Soopers President Joe Kelley said the planned strikes come at a time when the company wants to invest more than ever in wage increases and affordable health care.
"We have 50% of our people today that make over $20 an hour. Seventy-five percent of our team make over $18 an hour," he said. "So, Cordova's rhetoric around, '$16 is 13 cents higher than minimum wage,' unfortunately, it's misleading on what she's saying."
The contract for employees involved in the strike expired on Saturday. King Soopers said they tried to bring in a federal mediator to reach an agreement over the weekend, but the union rejected the plan.
"Adding another presence is not going to be productive," Cordova said of the matter.
The union also alleged the negotiations broke down because King Soopers failed to come to the table with someone who understood the issues at hand.
"These out-of-state lawyers don't understand our contracts. They don't know where we are in the process," Cordova said. "So, the company has put themselves in a position where we've rejected their proposals."
King Soopers also denies those claims. The only thing the two entities-at-odds agreed on is they wished negotiations had gone differently.
"If you're not going to come back to the table and negotiate, then let our associates vote on the offer that we gave you versus rejecting it," Kelley said.
"The company is not engaging in lawful bargaining by just throwing down a proposal and not considering ours," Cordova said.
The union also claims King Soopers has attempted to bargain directly with employees by using third-party staffing services to hire workers to go into stores to try to negotiate. In late December, the union filed a lawsuit, saying the alleged behavior was a breach of their contract.
On Monday, King Soopers filed unfair labor practice charges against UFCW Local 7 for "refusing to bargain in good faith," a claim the union has also made against the grocery store chain.
While it's not clear which King Soopers locations might be affected, Kelley said there would be instances where some departments and even some stores won't be able to open due to the impending strike. Kelley said the company has flown in about 300 people from across the country from their sister brands to help.
Union workers at King Soopers in Colorado Springs are also planning to strike. However, a date has not been set for when they plan to walk off the job.
This story was originally published by CB Cotton on Scripps station KMGH in Denver.