Jan 13, 2022 - Business

Kroger's King Soopers strike could continue for weeks

King Soopers Denver union strike

King Soopers grocery store workers wave at a passing car as they go on strike across the Denver metro area on Jan. 12. Photo: Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images

The strike that sent more than 8,000 King Soopers employees to the picket lines Wednesday could persist for nearly a month and expand to additional stores, according to the grocery workers union.

State of play: Nearly 80 Denver-area stores sat largely empty Wednesday as workers and supporters carried signs outside reading: "Please do not patronize."

  • Meanwhile, the union announced plans to pull more workers from Colorado Springs locations.

What's happening: Unionized employees are demanding tightened public safety measures, better PPE equipment, higher wages and more robust benefits from King Soopers parent company Kroger.

  • In a "last, best and final" offer, the company proposed spending $170 million on pay bumps, health insurance and an increased starting wage of $16 an hour.
  • The union turned it down.

What they're saying: Mark Fry, a Bear Valley King Soopers meat cutter, told Denverite he nearly died last winter from COVID-19; Fry was on a ventilator for three weeks and in a hospital bed for 64 days.

  • "We’re exposed to [COVID] all day and there’s no one enforcing [mask-wearing]. It shouldn’t be that way," Fry said.

The big picture: The Kroger strike comes as workers across multiple industries demand higher wages and better benefits, giving the workforce leverage amid labor shortages, Axios' Neil Irwin writes.

Between the lines: A report released this week from the Economic Roundtable, an LA-based nonprofit, found that 78% of Kroger workers in four states, including Colorado, were food insecure.

  • 44% of the company’s employees were unable to pay rent, and 14% reported experiencing homelessness within the past year.

The other side: In a statement, King Soopers president Joe Kelley called the strike "reckless" for "putting politics before people and preventing us from putting more money into our associates’ pockets."

  • The company has filed a complaint against the union with the National Labor Relations Board saying the union turned down a federal mediator's offer to settle the dispute.

What to watch: It's unclear how long or widespread the strike will be, not to mention its impact inside stores and trickling into communities.

  • For now, all affected King Soopers stores remain open.

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