Aurora King Soopers workers join union members across Denver metro area in labor strike

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AURORA | Workers at Aurora’s 10 King Soopers stores joined thousands of union members across the Denver metroplex Wednesday in a strike against what the union says are unfair labor practices.

The strike began at 5 a.m. on Wednesday at more than 60 stores in the Denver metro area. Outside the King Soopers on S. Peoria St. in Aurora, union members picketed in front of the store with signs asking passerbys not to patronize King Soopers during the strike.

“We as workers, we’re not asking for anything crazy,” King Soopers clerk Andres Becerril told the Sentinel on Tuesday. “I’m hoping we get a contract that ends up making this place a place worth working at.”

King Soopers and City Market are both owned by Kroger Co., the nation’s largest traditional grocery store chain.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 allege unfair labor practices by King Soopers. King Soopers has accused the union of the same thing.

On Tuesday, the union rejected a contract offer that included $170 million for wage increases and health care benefits and bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 for ratifying the contract, The Denver Post reported.

“Our original offer on the table was $148 million in wage increases. We raised that to $170 million this morning, which is the largest wage increase in the history of King Soopers and City Market,” Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market said Tuesday.

Union President Kim Cordova said King Soopers has not provided information it needs on items including wages, pensions and health care to evaluate the proposal. It also included unacceptable provisions, including restricting workers’ ability to work overtime, she said.

A survey of 10,287 Kroger employees in Colorado, California and Washington published by Economic Roundtable this week found that nearly two-thirds of employees reported not making enough to pay for basic expenses, with 44% of that group saying they are unable to pay rent and 39% saying they can’t afford groceries.

More than a third of all employees say they fear eviction. The survey also found that about 14% of the employees surveyed were homeless at the time of responding or had been homeless in the previous year. For 86% of workers, Kroger was said to be their sole employer.

And seniority affords little security, with 8-9% of respondents who had worked for the company for more than five years reporting they had been homeless at some point in the past year.

Becerril is a front end supervisor at the King Soopers on Mississippi Ave. in Aurora. He’s worked for the company for over 12 years at stores across the Denver metro area.

He came to the Aurora store from a Denver location in March of 2020, hoping it might be a bit less hectic. Two weeks later, the pandemic arrived in full force and grocery stores became some of the only places people could gather.

“It went from being a semi slow store to making money hand over fist,” he said.

Grocery store employees were dubbed essential frontline workers, and hailed as heroes by their employers and a grateful public. Becerril received “hero pay” for about six weeks during the start of the pandemic, which he said was the only time in the past two years he’s felt like he’s had a liveable wage.

But as time went on, he said it felt like the company began to take health measures less and less seriously. One of his biggest concerns right now is how short-staffed the store is. Workers aren’t able to take time away from their other tasks to clean when the maintenance person is gone, which could lead to unsanitary and potentially dangerous conditions.

“Most of the things we’re asking for in terms of safety are all preventative,” he said.

In March 2021, a gunman entered a Boulder King Soopers and killed 10 people, including three employees and a maintenance worker. Afterwards, Becerril’s store removed 15-second timers from emergency exits and put signs in the bathrooms pointing to the exits. He appreciated the changes, but said he was frustrated the company didn’t have more measures in place beforehand.

“People either have to get hurt or die for policies to get changed, and they’re usually policies that we asked to get changed,” he said.

According to UFCW Local 7, over 95% of its members voted in favor of the strike. Becerril is proud that the union is taking a stand.

“Hopefully this is something that can change the way people are treated in the workplace,” he said. 

On social media, state representative Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, shared her support for the strike and asked people not to cross the picket line.

Grocery store employees “are one of the groups of people that have really felt the effects of COVID in a different way than the rest of us,” Jodeh told the Sentinel.

A woman listed as the media contact for King Soopers on the Kroger website did not return phone messages left Tuesday and Wednesday. In a statement released Wednesday, the company called the union’s decision to strike “reckless and self-serving.”

“Local 7 is putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money in our associates’ pockets,” said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, in the statement. “Creating more disruption for our associates, their families and Coloradans rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution is irresponsible and undemocratic.”

The strike is currently scheduled to last three weeks, with employees at Colorado Springs locations joining in later in the month. Kroger has said King Soopers and City Market stores will remain open throughout.

The affected King Soopers locations in Aurora are:

  • 15250 E Mississippi Ave
  • 655 Peoria St
  • 19711 E Smoky Hill Rd
  • 17000 E Iliff Ave
  • 15109 E Colfax Ave
  • 4271 S Buckley Rd
  • 6412 S Parker Rd
  • 18221 East Hampden Ave
  • 3050S Peoria St
  • 1155 S Havana St

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 

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Doug
Doug
9 days ago

Kinda surprised at the lack of comments

Rebecca
9 days ago

Good

Rebecca
9 days ago

Nice

Vincent
9 days ago

This is one way to be replaced by automation. I’ll have no problem crossing the picket lines.

Union Joe
Union Joe
9 days ago
Reply to  Vincent

Empty threat. If they could replace them with automation, they would have already.

DICK MOORE
8 days ago
Reply to  Union Joe

Empty threat? One step at a time. Let’s say there used to be 12 check out lines with 12 employees. Now there are five checkout stations with seven self serve check out sites served by 6 total employees.

This strike will have Krogers, rightfully trying to eliminate as many employees as they can, even quicker than they wanted to before.

FeelingsAreNotFacts
FeelingsAreNotFacts
9 days ago

$170 million for wage increases and health care benefits and bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 — the largest increase in its history. Sounds like the extortionists are getting greedy. I’ll be shopping there tomorrow.

Union Joe
Union Joe
9 days ago

“…is irresponsible and undemocratic.” Sounds like Joe Kelley really wants to call his employees a bunch of communists. Undemocratic? What does democracy have to do with collective labor bargaining? Just more right-wing buzzwords and talking points. Everything they say and do is in bad faith.

DICK MOORE
9 days ago

The days of the usefulness of unions is long since past. Say about 70 years ago.

The timing of the strike is great for the union as no one wants to work and unemployment is at a real low. Just a “business” decision for the union as Krogers will not be able to replace the workers although I hope they can.

This will just add to the cost of food and inflation in our area.

I’ve always shopped at King’s and will continue to do so. I hope management will hold on and do all they can to union bust Local #7.

As a side light, years ago in the 1970’s, my CPA firm audited #7 and discovered in house fraud, were told that their representatives in Pueblo were tied to the national Mafia, had troubles with their pension plan with shortages and questionable in house loans and were taken over by the National Union to stop #7’s “bleeding”.

Are these apples falling from the same tree?

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
8 days ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

my CPA firm”
Never done a real day’s work in his life.

Dean
8 days ago

Union President Kim Cordova, makes about $200K a year and a few extra perks. And although she has all the authority to say we are not going to work and with supreme confidence.   Does she also have all the judgment to lead her band now that this line in the sand has been drawn? A couple weeks from now, this is not going to be some quick act of defiance with all the kumbaya it has generated. The strikers on the line will then meet Pres- Kim Cordova, with “how much longer till this is over”? And at the same time, she gets her secure check…yet never knowing an accurate and correct answer for her loyal ground pounders.