How are the King Soopers negotiations going? Depends on which side you ask.
DENVER — The King Soopers strike has entered its second week. Since it began, the grocery chain requested and was granted a temporary restraining order limiting the number of workers on the picket line outside stores, organizers of Denver’s Martin Luther King. Jr. Marade announced its rejection of King Soopers’ sponsorship and both sides have been at the table trying to find a deal.
Kyle Clark sat down Thursday for separate interviews with King Soopers President Joe Kelley and the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, Kim Cordova.
These are excerpts from the interviews. You can watch the interviews in full below.
Answers edited for length and clarity.
UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova
A week into the strike, is it making an impact?
It is. I think it’s making an impact on negotiations. Also, the company’s business. The support that we’re receiving from customers has been overwhelming.
If the proposal right now from King Soopers is so bad, why not let union members vote?
The strike is over unfair labor practices, which the company has not settled.
We have a member-led bargaining team committee that would decide whether or not the company’s proposals are agreeable. Part of the problem, which ties into the unfair labor practices, is we are still missing information from the company in order to cost-out and evaluate proposals. One of the big things is over health care. Our consultants do not agree on forecasts with each other and some of the budgets. While the company is telling workers and telling the media that they are going to be putting enough money into our health plan, or there won’t be trouble, our actuaries see it differently.
Has the restraining order made the strike seem smaller and less effective to the public?
No, and actually, it’s rallied the troops, and the neighbors and supporters.
We had no idea they were going to do this. I mean, it’s typical in Kroger’s playbook, but they never raised a single issue at the bargaining table. Outside of what they said in court, they have never addressed any issue with me. This is King Soopers’ way to try to silence the workers.
Do you regret any of the behavior that you think did happen on the strike lines?
Their allegations are just allegations. We’re going to go to court, we’re going to appeal it. I haven’t seen all of the stuff that they’re accusing workers of, but what I do know is the aggressive behavior we have seen is from the company’s side. They will not put security guards in front of our stores to protect our members during any given day of the week, and that’s one of the contentious points that we’re trying deal with and address here in negotiations.
Just last year during the pandemic, these were the heroes working for King Soopers. And now they’re trying to create this narrative that the people who were essential heroes are now having bad behavior.
One of the people in the last year or two who’s praised your workers as frontline heroes was Gov. Jared Polis. Are you surprised by the lack of support from the governor for your strike?
I’ve had a couple of conversations with the governor. What is conveyed to me is he does support us. He hopes that we are able to get a fair and good contract. I’m hoping he comes out stronger. We’ve had tremendous support from other elected leaders, but yeah, we want to see Gov. Polis out here supporting workers, not a brick and mortar store. Kroger is a Cincinnati-based company, and these are local folks. We are your neighbors. We are part of the community that he represents.
What’s going to determine how this ends, and how much of that has to do with what the consumers and public do?
Some things are — what we can’t get at the bargaining table, we’re going to have to try to push in legislation, hopefully to help with safety issues in the store. But I think what has to happen is the company just has to come to the table, do the right thing, suck up their pride, and let’s get back to work serving our community. I will tell you, if they get a bad contract, it’s not going to help staffing issues. Workers are tired. They’re rethinking their relationship with their employer.
WATCH: Full interview with UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova
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King Soopers and City Market President Joe Kelley
A week into the strike, is it making an impact?
First and foremost, we came to the table with some fundamental things we wanted to accomplish. First and foremost, we need to invest in our people, which is long overdue and I’m thrilled that we’re trying to do just that. We need to focus on keeping groceries affordable for everybody here in Colorado. And at the same time, we need to make sure we’re running a sustainable business.
So it is making an impact. We’ve made some progress, particularly over the last couple of days, and I’m optimistic.
King Soopers made what it described as a last, best and final offer prior to the start of the strike. Does that mean you’re not putting additional offers on the table while you negotiate?
We have. The union has come back with a number of offers, and we’ve done the same. That’s all part of negotiations, right? I think the important piece that we try to get out, and we told our associates right out of the gates after we presented to the union, that we’re putting $170 million in wage increases on the table. That’s the largest wage increase in the history of King Soopers and City Markets across 75 years. By the way, our associates deserve that. They’re long overdue.
On top of that, we also have an industry-leading health care plan. We also have a pension. Only 9% of companies in America still have a pension, and our associates have a solid one, and they’re thrilled to have it. And last, we have tuition reimbursement up to $21,500.
We think we have a very comprehensive, fair offer on the table. I think we’re making some progress and I’m optimistic that we can get this thing to a vote pretty soon.
How do you think your employees feel about the restraining order?
We have a number of our associates out on strike. We also have a number of our associates that are still working. We also have hundreds of people that have come in from outside Colorado from other unions.
First and foremost, the reason we had the order — and clearly, the court agreed with us — our first obligation is the safety of our associates and the safety of our customers. There were some activities that were happening that the court agrees were unlawful and certainly unsafe — blocking front doors, not letting folks drive through the parking lots, there were some threats, and what have you. This is more about safety of our associates and safety of our customers than anything else, and clearly, the courts agreed with us.
You also asked for and received a reduction in the number of picketers who can be on the line, even if they’re the most peaceful people in the world. Isn’t that about making the strike look small?
That’s absolutely not true. We own a lot of our property, it’s private property. If we wanted to push, we would have asked everybody to come off the property. What the associates did and what the folks that came in from out of town had done since — they’re out on the sidewalk by the street, perfect. There’s still 10 or 12 or so folks out in front of our doors, or at least on the front sidewalk. That’s fine. I am perfectly fine with folks’ rights to picket and to tell customers their opinions. I just want it to be safe, I want it to be orderly, and I want it to be organized.
The only thing I’m not happy with is the union instructing these folks to send them to competition that don’t pay their salaries. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But the bottom line is, when we get through with this whole thing, I welcome all of our associates back with open arms. I can’t wait to see them, I can’t wait to welcome them, and the same thing goes for our customers.
Organizers of Denver’s Martin Luther King Jr. parade, the Marade, they dropped King Soopers as a corporate sponsor, said that they wouldn’t accept the donation this year. King Soopers told them to keep it and said, “Love should always be bigger than hate.” You guys aren’t accusing the organizers of the Marade of engaging in hate, are you?
Not at all. At the end of the day, we were never called. We were never asked any questions about what the strike was all about, and they made the decision the way they did. From my standpoint, keep the money. This is all about celebrating Martin Luther King, the history, and all the things he’s done for our great country.
One of the arguments that I’ve seen King Soopers make in the last week is to compare the pay of your associates to other professions in town — professions that you point our require education, training, so forth. Is that an argument for not paying your people more, or is that an argument that those other professions should go get a union?
I think it’s an argument that everyone should be paid appropriately. They should be paid a fair wage. I don’t think it’s one against the other.
We were actually just trying to compare the fact that we’re paying a fair wage to our associates, and as a matter of fact, as we get this contract done and get it ratified, they’ll be making even more. That’s the important piece. Get the money in our associates’ pockets. That’s where it belongs. Nobody wins in a strike. We just need to get everybody back to work, and I’m very optimistic.
WATCH: Full interview with King Soopers President Joe Kelley
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