King Soopers Strike Is a Media Food Fight
Few situations are as contentious as a labor strike — or the threat of one. The slugfest between Kroger and its union in Colorado leading up to the labor action begun yesterday was a doozy. There was no lack of messaging, so much so that it’s not easy to decide who has the stronger case.
Even before their contract expired this weekend, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 overwhelmingly authorized a strike. The nearly 9,000 workers toil at Kroger unit King Soopers (and its City Market brand), reportedly the biggest grocery chain by market share in Colorado.
The week before the vote, the union sued King Soopers, accusing it of hiring temps in violation of the contract. The company, according to the union, offered the replacements $16 an hour, more than many contracted workers make (HuffPost reprinted an AP photo of a sign at a King Soopers offering $18). The strike at about 80 stores is mostly over pay, benefits and safety.
On Jan. 7, the union announced it would walk out at 5 a.m. on Jan. 12 (which it has now done). “King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages,” Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in the statement. On Jan. 10, Cordova held a press conference to address King Soopers’ call for a return to the bargaining table.
For its part, Cincinnati-based Kroger didn’t issue an official release until Monday this week. The news was that it had filed its own lawsuit accusing the union of unfair labor practices for refusing to negotiate. It said the local is bent on disruption.
“After three days of refusing repeated requests to return to the negotiating table, Local 7’s Kim Cordova has now rejected a reasonable request for mediation,” said King Soopers President Joe Kelley.
The next day the company put out a release revealing it had sent the union a final offer that included an increase of $170 million over three years. Details included wage bumps of up to $4.50 an hour the first year, a starting rate of $16 an hour (though in Denver that’s only 13 cents above minimum wage, as Cordova pointed out in HuffPost), and bonuses ($4,000 for those with more than 10 years of service and $2,000 for less than that).
The strike is King Soopers’ largest in 25 years, according to the Denver Fox affiliate. In the Fox article, Cordova accused Kelley of popping into the negotiations for only nine minutes and Kelley accused the union of negotiating with the media rather than the company.
And so it goes. NBC Denver affiliate headline: “Before Strike, King Soopers and Union Fight in Court of Public Opinion.”
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic feeds into all this. Grocery workers are now seen as essential workers, which they always were. So depending on your point of view, it’s either a smart time or the wrong time to strike.
Photo Credit: Marekuliasz/Shutterstock
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