(CBS4) - Employees at your King Soopers store may soon be picketing. Union members in Denver, Broomfield, Boulder, Parker and Colorado Springs voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, citing what they called "the company's egregious and unrelenting unfair labor practices."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 held the pre-authorization strike vote on Sunday in Denver and on Monday in Colorado Springs. King Soopers said if there is a strike, it's not in good faith and is pursuing its own legal action against the union.
"Let's be clear, Local 7 issued a strike authorization vote related to alleged unfair labor practices. These allegations are just that, allegations, as King Soopers/City Market has followed the law and has NOT received any notice of wrongdoing from the National Labor Relations Board," the company said in a news release.
Workers will remain at work at least through the end of their current agreement, which expires at 11:59 p.m. on Sat., Jan. 8.
Nearly 60% of store associates are UFCW Local 7 members and several stores are now seeking temporary workers to avoid disruptions should a strike occur.
"Unfortunately, since Local 7 is threatening a possible strike, we have we have enacted our contingency plans. These plans allow us to remain committed to being here for our associates, customers and communities providing fresh food and essential services should a work stoppage occur."
Some customers have already complained of supply shortages, something the company attributes to a recent shift in buying habits, mainly more demand. The contingency plan would help avoid further disruption.
King Soopers is currently in contract negotiations over wages. UFCW representatives say the chain "continues to go around the Union hiring outside workers at a higher rate, prohibiting Union activity, attempting to bargain directly with workers instead of the Union, and imposing unfair wage changes."
"Moreover, at the table, King Soopers has failed to agree to important changes to wages, health care, and safety," union officials stated. "The Company's proposals would result in serious funding issues for workers' health care plan and cause significant benefit cuts."
On Saturday, Dec. 29, King Soopers released the following statement:
King Soopers continues to engage with the UFCW Local 7 in ongoing contract negotiations. Today, the company proposed a comprehensive offer containing significant investments in associate wages, health care and pension plans, proposing an investment of more than $145 million in new wages over the next four years.
This investment brings over 75% of associates' average hourly wage to more than $18 an hour, with more than 50% of associates making over $20 for an average hourly wage. This is in addition to providing industry leading health care and a pension for when they retire.
What does this investment mean for a checker?
As an example, here's what this investment would mean for a checker with five years of experience:
• Current wage $19.51 an hour
• 2022 +.50 cents = $20.01
• 2023 +.50 cents = $20.51
• 2024 +.50 cents = $21.01
• 2025 + .50 cents = $21.51
For a full-time checker their annual compensation would be nearly $45,000 annually.
"We will continue to do everything we can to balance investments in wages and overall well-being while keeping food affordable for our customers. We remain committed to our people and our Colorado community," said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market. "This offer adds to our associates' paychecks, while providing them with premium health care coverage and a company funded pension – which many of our competitors do not offer," added Joe.
Currently 58% of our associates are UFCW Local 7 members, however we are committed to making these investments across our company, providing pay increases to associates regardless of their union status.
Employees say the raises are not enough and argue they are lower than what other, similar industries are offering.
One union member told CBS4 for those who have served under five years, the raise was around 13 cents.
"King Soopers needs to come to the table and be a real leader in the industry. They're the number on grocery chain in Colorado, Kroger is the number one grocery chain in the country and for them to come to the table and request employees to go backwards instead of forwards on various different things is completely unacceptable," said Kevin Schneider, Secretary treasurer for UFCW local 7.
Schneider says it's about more than wages, it's about health and safety.
"Customers aren't required to leave the premises when they come in not wearing masks. They've not done a good job of protecting the employees and providing a safe workplace. In contract negotiations the company has not provided us with all the information we've asked for to make good proposals with regard to issues we have concerns about," he said.
At the minimum, he would like to see employees hazard pay reinstated. It's a benefit that ended in the spring of 2020.
"We're not asking for the moon. We're asking people be treated with respect, that they be paid, and they and they be protected as essential workers which is exactly what they are," said Schneider.
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