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Boulder King Soopers Employees Call For More Safety & Transparency Before Returning To Store

BOULDER, Colo., (CBS4) – Two weeks after the deadly shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, several employees, as well as the union that represents some of them, are raising concerns about proposals over what happens next. On Friday, Kim Cordova, UFCW Local 7 President, sent a letter to Jon McPherson, VP of Labor & Associate Relations for Kroger, which owns King Soopers, saying the company's proposal "woefully fails to meet the needs of the workers at Store #33," which is the Table Mesa location.

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(credit: CBS)

One of the things at issue is how long the company will give employees paid emergency leave. At this point, the company will pay those benefits for at least two more two weeks, a spokesperson said.

Last week, CBS4 reported on one employee's questions and concerns after an all-staff in-person meeting in which employees were told the company will pay them their average hourly wage until April 24. After that, if employees still aren't comfortable coming back the company will work with them.

"Our members – as well as the non-union employees at Store #33 – have reacted with a sense of both shock and betrayal that the Company is unwilling to immediately agree to the critical issue of paid administrative leave past April 24, 2021," Cordova said in the letter.

Paul Johnson, who worked in front end management at the Table Mesa store, is one of the non-union employees who has concerns. He was working on the day of the shooting and was able to escape the store when the gunman opened fire.

"I managed to run out of the store within the first 30 seconds just hearing gunshots the whole time," Johnson said.

Johnson said he knows he won't be willing to do the same job again and remains unsure when he will feel ready to work. He said the April 24 date "sounded good at first" but not anymore.

"I keep thinking, 'oh I'm getting better,' and then it all comes back. I can hear the gunshots again," Johnson said. "I don't know when I'm going to be able to just be in a public, enclosed space again without panicking."

Coloradans Mourn Victims Of Boulder Shooting
BOULDER, CO -MARCH 23: Starr Samkus, seated second from left, a King Soopers employee, is comforted by friends as she sits in front of 10 wooden crosses erected next to the fence surrounding the King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive on March 23, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. Samkus knew three of the victims who died in the mass shooting. Hundreds of people turned out late in the day to pay their respects to those that lost their lives by a gunman who opened fire inside the grocery store. People stayed well into the dark to drop off flowers, light candles, hug one another and to show their respects for the ten victims of the mass shooting. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Conor Hall, an employee and union steward at the Table Mesa Store, was not at King Soopers on March 22, and has not been willing to go near it since. For now, he doesn't believe he'll be ready to work for a while and feels the company is issuing an ultimatum to employees.

"We're being put in a position where we have to choose – do we do what's right for our mental health, or do we get our paycheck?" Hall said. "I think it's a cruel position to put people in."

On Monday, a spokesperson for King Soopers confirmed paid emergency leave will continue until at least April 24, and said at that time, the company will evaluate the next steps.

"Our Human Resource team will work with each associate one-on-one to understand their needs and desired timeline to return to work. While our hope is that associates remain with King Soopers, we will work with each associate individually to best support their needs now and in the future."

Since the shooting, the company has opened a Community Resource Center at 603 South Broadway in Boulder, which is open to the public Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"King Soopers associates, customers and community members can meet with counselors and other professionals from Veterans Affairs, Red Cross, victim's advocacy experts, and experience mental health services with trauma counselors, comfort dogs, and massage and acupuncture therapy."

Hall raised other concerns to CBS4 about the process moving forward. While workers may choose to temporarily transfer to another store while the Table Mesa location is renovated, some worry about how it will affect their seniority and promotions.

In the letter from UCFW Local 7, Cordova also raised this concern.

"Without a guarantee of pay past April 24, these workers have no choice but to either forfeit their seniority and other rights afforded under the CBA, but also, for many, their preferred work location – or forfeit their income and benefits," Cordova said.

In response to questions from CBS4, a King Soopers spokesperson was critical of the union and said, the company will continue to honor our collective bargaining agreements.

"We care very deeply about the safety and well-being of all our associates and are committed to providing each of them the support, services, and resources they need as they make decisions highly personal decisions about their futures."

Moving forward, Johnson and Hall hope more of their concerns will be addressed by the company. Johnson said he would like to see more transparency over how paid leave is calculated and would like mental health resources to remain available or paid for.

Hall hopes negotiations between the company and union lead to solutions for his security concerns, which include plans to make sure stores have armed guards and are better prepared.

"It's going to take a lot of time for us to get where we need to be, and what the company is offering us is woefully inequipped [sic] to meet those concerns, especially going in the long-term," Hall said.

CBS4 asked King Soopers about the future of the Table Mesa store and the timeline for reopening. A spokesperson said the company just regained access to the store Monday and hasn't made any decisions on future plans.

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