Thousands strike King Soopers groceries in Colorado

By Karen Ray
and Valerie Johnson
January 24, 2022
Militant/Karen Ray

ARVADA, Colo. — Some 8,400 grocery store workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, went out on strike Jan. 12 at 87 stores in the region. They are fighting for better wages and working conditions, and against the two-tier divisions in the workforce imposed by the bosses, and other takeback demands.

At the Arvada King Soopers store here, over 20 strikers walked the picket line at dawn. Karrie Jaramillo, pictured above second from the right, told the Militant “We all do the same work, we should all get the same thing!” She has worked for the grocery store for six years and still is unable to get full-time status.

Workers voted overwhelming to strike. In Boulder and Broomfield, 100% voted to walk out. In the Denver metro area, over 95% voted to strike.

King Soopers is owned by Cincinnati–based Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain. Fifty-eight percent of the workers in Colorado are members of the union. U.S. grocery sales were up 11% in 2020, more than triple the year before, as more people shopped during pandemic-imposed government lockdowns that shuttered or restricted restaurants and bars. Kroger’s operating profits were $4 billion.

Other issues in the strike include improved health care and pensions, an end to forced overtime, double-time pay on holidays, more full-time positions, and an end to company outsourcing jobs to third-party vendors. Workers hired after 2005 work under a two–tier system with fewer benefits.

The union is also fighting against company attempts to limit sick time leave to only 48 hours a year and eliminating overtime pay after working 8 hours. King Soopers had paid workers $2 an hour in “hazard pay” early in the pandemic, but stopped in May 2020.

The company wage proposal for new hires is for $16 per hour, “only 13 cents above minimum wage,” Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7 in Colorado and Wyoming, told the press. In some stores workers are still working as contracts are still in negotiations, including in the Colorado Springs meat department where the contract expires Feb 22. Some struck stores have begun advertising for “temporary workers” — that is, strikebreakers — at $18 an hour.

The bosses say they’re trying to “keep prices down for consumers,” hoping to pit shoppers against the workers.

According to Local 7, union members and supporters will be coming to Colorado from other states to join the strikers’ picket lines.