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King Soopers workers go on strike

Employees at Denver area stores started striking at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

DENVER — The labor union that represents thousands of King Soopers employees rejected the company's "last, best and final offer" Tuesday, meaning a three-week strike started Wednesday morning.

King Soopers' newest offer, made on Tuesday, would increase the company's investment in wages and bonuses to $170 million over the next three years, from the previous $148 million, according to a news release.

"At King Soopers, we want what is right for our associates, and that is more money in their paychecks while continuing to receive industry-leading health-care benefits," Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers/City Market, said in a statement Tuesday.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, which represents King Soopers employees in Colorado, said it declined the offer for its "unacceptable and insulting proposals" and that employees at 78 Colorado stores will strike at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

As far as impacts like reduced store hours during the strike, a spokesperson for King Soopers said in a statement Wednesday in part that, "We are closely monitoring service levels and will make adjustments as needed."

The statement also read that their goal is "to continue to service the community with access to fresh food and other essentials," and that they've activated their contingency plans to keep their stores open and running.

Jack Buffington, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Denver, said shoppers should not panic buy, but should expect some disruptions. 

"I think the consumer just needs to understand that there may be some inconveniences, there may be some items that they can't get, but for the most part, the staples that they need, whether they get it at one grocery store or the other, they'll get it," he said. "But I would say be more predictive on your buying. Don't want until the last minute if you can afford to do so."

Some viewers expressed concern to 9NEWS Wednesday about the ability to fill prescriptions during the strike. 

A spokesperson for King Soopers said in a statement that their pharmacies are open still and ready to serve patients.

"We are actively monitoring service levels and, in some instances, customers may see reduced hours at their local pharmacy. Additionally, as part of our efforts to ensure patients can access their medications we are waving prescription delivery fees at all stores currently impacted by the labor stoppage," the statement read in part.

Patients can call their local pharmacy to place a delivery order, with most products available for delivery Monday through Friday between 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. according to the statement. Patients can also call to have their prescriptions filled for pick-up through the drive-through window (at stores with drive-through service).

Meanwhile, the Colorado Pharmacists Society shared that pharmacies are impacted because pharmacy technicians are part of the union that is striking. Pharmacists are in a different union.

"King Soopers pharmacies are working very hard to stay open and provide services to patients," a statement read in part from the society's executive director, Emily Zadvorny. "This will also potentially impact other pharmacies if patients must go elsewhere. Pharmacies are all very taxed and stretched to the limit right now."

The planned strike includes about 8,700 workers in the Denver, Broomfield, Parker and Boulder areas. The contracts for employees at those stores expired Saturday, Cordova said.

"Clearly, King Soopers/City Market will not voluntarily meet the needs of our workers, despite our repeated pleas for the Company to listen to the voices of our members," UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova said in a statement. "We strike because it has become clear this is the only way to get what is fair, just, and equitable for the grocery workers who have risked their lives every day just by showing up to work during the pandemic."

RELATED: King Soopers employees to begin strike Jan. 12, union says

Cordova said Monday that the store is proposing a starting wage of $16 an hour, which is 13 cents over Denver's minimum wage. 

"That 13 cents is not going to improve the lives of our grocery workers, who have done so much for these companies," she said. 

She said in addition to higher wages, workers want armed security and other safety improvements in stores, a faster path to full-time jobs, better health benefits and a secure pension plan.

Security is one of the top priorities for Alex Rakestraw, a produce assistant manager for a King Soopers in Broomfield.

“That’s what the union always says is we’re brothers and sisters, so I mean it’s just to be united and to stand together and show them we have words," he said.

> Watch the full union press conference from Monday:

King Soopers released the details of its latest offer Tuesday, which it said includes wage investments and signing bonuses of $170 million over the next three years:

  • Wage increases of up to $4.50 an hour in the first year, based on job classification and tenure, with additional increases over the life of the contract.
  • Starting pay increased to $16 an hour.
  • Ratification bonuses for active associates: $4,000 for 10+ years of service, $2,000 for less than 10 years.

Under the new offer, for example, a checker with five years of experience currently making $19.51 an hour would see a wage increase to $21.01 this year, $21.81 in 2023 and $22.61 in 2024, the company said.

Credit: 9NEWS
Credit: 9NEWS

The offer also includes an additional company investment into health care benefits that would result in "zero impact" to current premiums based on current projections, King Soopers said.

The union said it took issue with several proposals in the company's offer, such as "restricting the worker's ability to work overtime" and "allowing the company to lower wages during the term of agreement at its whim."

The union is accusing the company of unfair labor practices, saying they have failed to provide necessary information and tried to negotiate directly with employees.

On Monday, the company said they had filed unfair labor practice charges against the union "for refusing to bargain in good faith," saying the union had rejected mediation services. Cordova said the union is not interested in working with a federal mediator, saying "adding another presence is not going to be productive."

RELATED: King Soopers employees preauthorize strike in nearly unanimous vote

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