Watch CBS News

Striking King Soopers workers demand higher pay, citing COVID-19 risks

Grocery stores facing shortages again
Grocery stores facing shortages due to severe weather and rising COVID cases 02:50

Roughly 8,000 grocery workers at Kroger-owned King Soopers and City Markets are on strike in Colorado, marking yet another labor dispute in a wave of protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Employees at the stores, who walked off the job on Wednesday, are demanding a pay hike of at least $6 per hour, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 7. The supermarket chains' have offered a wage increase of up to $4.50 an hour, but union leaders have rejected it. The strike is expected to last until February 2, union representatives said. 

"The company's 'last, best, and final' offer, in many ways, is worse than its previous offers," Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, said in a statement this week. "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."

The conflict highlights the growing push by front-line workers, who are often poorly paid, to be rewarded for remaining at their posts during the pandemic. Employees at some of the nation's best-known companies, including Amazon, John Deere, Kellogg's, Nabisco and Starbucks, have sought to organize or gone out on strike.

Kroger's King Soopers workers in Colorado go on strike for better pay
Union members raise signs outside a King Soopers store during a protest as workers go on strike in Denver, Colorado, U.S., January 12, 2022. KEVIN MOHATT / REUTERS

Based in Denver, King Soopers operates about 120 locations, with 22,500 employees, in Colorado and Wyoming.

In its latest contract proposal, King Soopers said it would spend $170 million over the next three years for wage increases and bonuses for associates. Starting pay for employees would grow to $16 an hour, while cashiers, who currently earn $19.51 an hour, would see their wage reach $22.61 by 2024, the proposal states. 

King Soopers President Joe Kelley accused the union and Cordova of denying workers a chance to vote on the company's offer. "Creating more disruption for our associates, their families and Coloradans, rather than negotiating for a peaceful resolution, is irresponsible and undemocratic," he said in a statement. 

Kroger, the nation's largest grocery store chain, has seen its revenue and stock price surge during the health crisis. But the pandemic has also shone a spotlight on its labor practices. In 2021, for instance, Kroger closed two stores in California after local officials in California temporary "hazard pay" increases for some supermarket workers. 

Labor strikes surge across the U.S. 07:47

Almost 80% of Kroger employees said they are food insecure — meaning they struggle to put food on the table every night — according to a survey from the Economic Roundtable, a nonpartisan policy research group in Los Angeles. About 45% of Kroger workers can't afford rent and 14% either are or have been homeless, the survey also found. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen received a $22 million compensation bonus in 2020, according to the group.

Last May, Kroger ended what it called "hero pay," a $2-an-hour bonus offered to its more than 500,000 workers. The company instead switched to paying $130 million in bonuses, with full-time workers getting $400 and part-timers receiving $200. 

Krogerr disputed the survey's findings and said the Economic Roundtable report is "one-dimensional and does not tell the complete story."

"We are an employer who cares about the whole person and our associates' basic needs," the company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "If an associate is experiencing a hardship, they have access to our Helping Hands Fund, which provides financial grants to support associates' emergency needs."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.