Colorado Kroger employees could go on strike as talks stall

Employees of Kroger, the parent company of City Market, could go on strike within the next several weeks following the collapse of talks between union leaders and store officials last week in Denver where the company is headquartered. Moab residents don’t need to worry about a work disruption here; the Moab store is not unionized. However, other City Market stores throughout Colorado could have labor disruptions if a settlement isn’t reached.

Union and corporate leaders disagree over how negotiations ended Thursday, March 7, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 claiming that City Market/King Soopers leaders walked out of a negotiating session. “King Soopers and City Market said they didn’t want to negotiate further and left in the middle of scheduled bargaining,” according to the union statement. “This is part of a continuing pattern of King Soopers and City Market ignoring federal law by not bargaining in good faith and attempting to intimidate UFCW members,” according to a story in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Kroger spokesman Adam Williamson disagreed with that characterization of the situation. “It’s unfortunate the facts have been misrepresented. Our associates and customers deserve the truth. Our team has made themselves available to continue negotiating with the union,” Williamson said in a statement.

Corporate leaders do not view the negotiations as over, Williamson told the Daily Sentinel, because “we haven’t given our last, best and final offer yet.” The central issues at stake in contract negotiations are pay raises, sick leave and health care benefits.

One Kroger employee, Esther Garcia, a deli chef and assistant manager at the 12th Street City Market in Grand Junction, said she is proud to work for City Market but wants better wages and sick leave for all employees. “If you’re not feeling well, it’s hard to be around food and you’ll make your coworkers and customers sick,” she said.

Garcia is in her 12th year at City Market and views her coworkers as a second family — but she wants to be able to take care of her actual family with better pay and paid sick leave. Garcia estimated nearly 70 percent of store employees are union members.

“I think a lot of people are anxious about this, but are remaining strong knowing that the union wants to come through for them,” she said. “They want to still be able to work and perform their duties; they just want to be able to take care of their families too,” she told the Sentinel.

Evan Yeats, a union spokesman, said a strike vote could occur in the next two weeks, depending on the logistics of organizing spaces across the state for 12,000 members to meet for a vote.

Williamson said company leaders have offered to increase wages, make incremental investments in the employee pension plan and invest in health care.

“As negotiations continue, our stores and associates will serve our communities as they always have,” Williamson said in a statement. “We know our associates are the heart of King Soopers/City Market and we will continue to negotiate with them and our communities in mind.”