On Jan. 3, King Soopers grocery store workers who are members of UFCW Local 7, voted to go on an Unfair Labor Practices strike in stores across Colorado. Stores that held strike votes reported “yes” votes of more than 98 percent. Workers are set to strike this Wednesday, Jan. 12. Other local unions, such as BCTGM local 26 and Teamsters local 455, have already offered solidarity with the UFCW strike.
The Unfair Labor Practices strike is a result of King Soopers offering high pay to non-union workers to perform union jobs, as well as other “effort[s] to prevent workers from securing a new contract advancing wages, health, and retirement benefits, and [not] ensuring a safe place for employees to work and customers to shop.”
King Soopers workers are also in the middle of contract negotiations, and their current contract expired at midnight on Jan. 8. During contract negotiations, King Soopers has attempted to hire non-union temporary workers, refused to share information they are legally required to, refused to bargain in good faith and slandered the union. UFCW local 7 also filed a lawsuit against King Soopers last week for breaching the union contract over vendors in stores.
Service workers, including grocery store workers, have faced COVID head-on for the last two years. In 2020 alone, Kroger made $2.6 billion in profit, while a worker working 40 hours a week would have only gotten a measly $640 from those record profits while being put in danger every day. Even while profits continued to grow throughout the pandemic, King Soopers management halted their $2/hour “Hero Pay” increase in May 2020, only two months after beginning it.
To add insult to injury, 55 percent of grocery workers in America say they do not have paid sick leave. These workers are left with the choice between risking their job and their ability to pay their bills by calling out, using what little personal time off they have to recover, if any, or going to work while still infected.
As Kim Cordova, VP of UFCW and President of UFCW local 7 in Colorado and Wyoming said, “Local 7 will not rest until we secure a contract that respects, protects, and pays these essential grocery workers.”
Less than a month ago, UFCW local 555 workers in Oregon went on strike against grocer Fred Meyer, also owned by Kroger. Before the picket line went up, the company illegally hired temporary workers without informing them of the impending strike, among other labor law violations. Despite the company’s illegal strikebreaking attempts, the agreement won by the strike includes “significant wage increases, added workplace protections, a secure retirement, and quality healthcare,” according to UFCW Local 555.
King Soopers has already begun hiring scab workers at $18 an hour, significantly more than their current average hourly wage of $15. Kroger has also begun trying to improve their contract offers, attempting to stave off the strike. Both of these actions reveal the truth: Kroger has plenty of money that they could use to pay their employees a living wage and ensure safer working conditions, but they would simply rather funnel as much money as possible to their shareholders.
Photo credit: By Plazak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10405301